Bill would give Brazilian expatriates representation

Liz Mineo

A proposal to amend Brazil's Constitution so expatriates could elect their own representatives to their national congress is making headway in Brazil to the delight of a local Brazilian group.

The nine-member group led by Framingham businessman Pablo Maia, Pro-Citizenship United, received the news of the bill's approval by Brazil's Senate two weeks ago with high hopes.

"We need someone in congress who can take care of Brazilians who live abroad," said Maia, who started the organization April last year. "There is nobody who is representing the interests of Brazilians who live outside Brazil."

The group collected nearly 9,000 signatures from Brazilians in the United States to support the proposal, introduced in 2005 by a Brazilian senator. In mid-March, a delegation led by Maia traveled to Brasilia and handed the collected signatures to the bill's author.

"We were very well received," said Maia, a Framingham Realtor who is the group's moderator. "We were pleasantly surprised the bill moved forward after our visit."

Brazilian newspapers reported the bill made its way onto the Senate floor once Senate President Jose Sarney publicly voiced his support. The proposal, passed on a 60-0 vote, is scheduled to come back to the Senate floor for a second decision. As of now, Brazilians living abroad can only vote in presidential elections.

Although it still has a long way to go, Maia said the bill would help expatriates have a representative who can advocate for them both in Brazil and outside the country. At the domestic level, Brazilians living in another country would like to retain labor and pension rights they earned when they lived in Brazil. They would also like their representative to exert influence on immigration policies implemented by governments of countries with large Brazilian populations.

"We need someone who can advocate for us in favor of an immigration reform and other laws that could benefit us," said Arlete Falkoswki, a group member who lives in Worcester. "That person could also deal with immigration, health, education and other issues affecting immigrants here."

More than 3 million Brazilians live abroad, with the largest population - more than 1.5 million - in the United States. Brazilians around the world send $7 billion back home every year, and for many, the time to match their political influence with their economic power has come. The bill includes the election of representatives of Brazilians in the United States, Europe, Japan and the rest of the world.

In Brazil, the proposal has met some criticism. Opponents said the creation of new representative seats would be an unnecessary expense. Current politicians could take care of the demands of the Brazilian Diaspora, they said.

For those who favor limits on immigration to the United States, such a proposal could complicate and slow the process of integration of immigrants to U.S. society by creating dual and conflicting allegiances. But such proposals don't seem to be taking hold among immigrant communities in the United States, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies with the Center for Immigration Studies.

Of the 3 million Brazilian emigres, only 136,000 are registered to vote in the U.S.

Maia remains optimistic. The proposal is similar to laws implemented by other countries with longer traditions of emigration such as Spain and Portugal, to give political representation to their expatriates. If the bill doesn't pass, Maia said the battle won't be lost.

"The most important thing is that the seed has been planted," he said. "People in Brazil now understand Brazilians who live abroad need political representation."

MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News staff writer Liz Mineo can be reached at 508-626-3825 or