227 Brazilians return home after detention in U.S.

Illegal immigration has surged in recent years


SAO PAULO, Brazil - A group of 277 deportees - about a quarter of the illegal Brazilian immigrants held in detention in the United States - arrived home yesterday on a plane chartered by the U.S. government.

The flight arriving at Belo Horizonte, capital of the central state of Minas Gerais, was the first of four planned under an agreement between the U.S. Homeland Security Department and the Brazilian Congress.

U.S. and Brazilian officials said the repatriation had run smoothly, with no trace of the public rancor shown in recent weeks in a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

Early this month, noting what it called the diplomatic principle of reciprocity, Brazil started to fingerprint and photograph Americans arriving here in response to new United States requirements of all foreigners, except those of 27 countries that do not need visas to enter the United States.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell complained that Brazil was discriminating against Americans. Brazil suggested that its citizens should be exempted from visa requirements.

The chartered flights, arranged before the visa dispute broke out, will be used by the Brazilian police to help find leaders of an immigrant smuggling ring linked to Mexican groups, known as the Coyote Mafia.

The police said they would be questioning returnees on the flights, and would arrest only people who were linked to such groups, were traveling on forged documents or were wanted by the police before leaving Brazil.

More than 5,200 Brazilians were detained in the United States for illegal entry between October 2002 and September last year. Most were apprehended on the United States border with Mexico and have mainly been detained in Arizona, Texas and southern California.

Brazilians currently rank fifth among illegal immigrants detained as they try to enter the United States.

The number of attempts to cross into the United States through Mexico has surged during the past two years since Brazil and Mexico abolished visa requirements for each others' citizens.

U.S. authorities have previously repatriated small groups of Brazilians on commercial flights, but, due to the surge in Brazilian detainees, charter flights are now considered the best option.

"If we didn't use charter flights, we wouldn't be able to get the backlog down," said Wes Carrington, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia.

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