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A Would-Be Future Brazilian Leader Earns His Stripes, In Washington

Lucas Santos was an illegal immigrant when he arrived with his family 13 years ago. His father eventually got a green card, and Lucas has landed in Congress with a prestigious internship where he works on immigration issues and dreams of a political caree

Washington interns (USDA)
Washington interns (USDA)
Luciana Coelho

WASHINGTON - Meet 21-year-old Brazilian Lucas Santos, the exception who proves the rule within an immigrant community uninterested in politics.

Santos works as an intern in the United States House of Representatives. When he was eight years old, he arrived in the US on with his family on a tourist visa. At 13, he obtained regular permission to stay. His own experience has driven him to focus on the issue of immigration reform, a key topic for next American elections. But in the long-term, Santos dreams of returning to Brazil to pursue a career in politics. We met up with him in Washington. Here is his story:

I came to the USA when I was 8. We come from the town of Colombo, next to Curitiba capital of the southern state of Paraná. Dad tried to run for local office there, and lost by a few votes. He was feeling frustrated and aimless when he won an airline ticket to come to the US in a gas station's contest. He thought that was a sign.

My mom was pregnant. I was her only child at the time – after me, two sisters were born. We managed to become regular immigrants because my dad worked at a restaurant whose boss helped more than 20 Brazilians get a green card.

In Brazil, I always followed dad when he was chatting with his politician friends. I thought it was boring then. But, by the end of high school, since I was good at political science classes, I decided to go for it.

I entered the University of Massachusetts, in Lowell. I met the Democrat Representative of Somerville, Massachusetts, near Boston Michael Capuano when he came for a lecture. Somerville has with a large Brazilian population, and I thought this would be a good opportunity for an internship.

I am part of the Washington Center program, which has 400 interns from inside and outside the US. I am the only Brazilian.

I think about having a career as a politician, but in Brazil. America's future is uncertain, and maybe I would have a greater chance in Brazil. Here, the Brazilian community thinks they can't change anything by voting. They are too isolated and only think about work. But if the whole legal Brazilian community of Framingham, Massachusetts voted, they would have some real power.

Lost generation

Besides that, my generation in general doesn't like politics. Young people got excited with Obama, but it would require someone like him again to make it happen again. His reelection wouldn't bring so much hope this time.

The Latino community has lost some of the faith in Obama as well. He had the majority in Congress and could have approved immigration reform, but didn't even try. If he is reelected, he must try to do it. The experts say that Latinos will be the key to these elections.

The lawmakers who represent Latino communities do a good job, but parties are a limiting factor. See the Dream Act a legislative proposal that would legalize children of irregular immigrants. I don't see a reason for even debating it – it is so obvious.

I focus on immigration topics; I go to all the hearings. As we managed to become legal, I know the whole process – I helped my dad when he needed to translate the documents and everything else, because he couldn't speak English so well.

When the Republicans voted against the reform, and called it amnesty... Latinos are not begging for amnesty. They want a chance to become legal, because the process is long and expensive. These people pay taxes and don't get the benefits from them – except for public education, which can't be denied.

I have Republican friends, and we always fall into the same discussion: they say immigrants come here illegally, and thus are breaking laws. So did I, I tell them, because my father came here and brought me with him?

Actually, with the crisis, my dad is thinking about moving back. There are lots of people going back now. In Lowell, the Brazilian community has shrunk. Among the families we are friends with, about 15 moved back to Brazil. My godfather is now in Brazil to open a business after 16 years in the US.

I want to go back some day, but with good work experience, so I'll have something to offer. I want to study public administration and learn how it works here, then try to see what would work for Brazil.

Read more from Folha de S. Paulo

photo - USDA

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