BRASILIA, Brazil—Brazilians are illegally entering the United States in record numbers in hopes of finding jobs and better lives—just like characters in a wildly popular Brazilian soap opera “America.”
The number of undocumented Brazilians caught on U.S. soil is set to rise over four fold this year from 2004—a much bigger increase than for illegal immigrants from other Latin American countries, according to U.S. officials.
As authorities search for factors spurring the exodus, they have begun to look at the passion of Brazil’s poor for “America,” a soap opera that debuted in early March and shows illegal immigrants risking their lives to enter the United States to find jobs and romance amid the hardship.
“Any publicity raises the idea in people’s minds they can make it,” said one U.S. diplomat who did not want to be identified.
Like half of all Brazilian TV viewers, Tarcila Madureira Silva tuned in each night to the Globo network soap opera. She watched heroine Sol make it as a dancer in Miami and send money home to help her family, in between passionate scenes with her American lover.
The show has tripled the number of Brazilians heading for the border, said Leonardo Monteiro, a lower house deputy and member of a Congressional inquiry into emigration.
The 1.3 million Brazilians in the United States—half of them illegal—send around $2 billion back home each year. Those that return home with money inspire thousands more to follow in their footsteps.