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Demand for Smugglers Increases as Immigrants Head to Brazil

David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images(MIAMI) -- A market for human smugglers is growing in South America, as thousands of undocumented immigrants try to make it into Brazil, the BBC Mundo website reports.

According to BBC Mundo, groups of human smugglers are now operating along an immigration route that starts in Haiti, and goes through Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, before crossing into Brazil's remote state of Acre, which is mostly covered by rainforests.

BBC Mundo correspondent Gerardo Lissardy recently visited Brasilea, a town on the Bolivia-Brazil border, and talked to local immigration officials who told him that some 5,500 immigrants had recently tried to enter Brazil through Acre.

Most of them came from Haiti, officials said, but Lissardy also found a group of immigrants that made it to this remote jungle outpost, all the way from the West African nation of Senegal.

Apparently immigrants are heading to Brazil because of the country's solid economic performance over the past few years. There are also great prospects of working in areas of the economy like construction, which is expected to do well in the next few years, as Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. It also helps that Brazil's vast borders are relatively easy to cross.

Brazil has also said that it wants more immigrants. Recently a high-level Brazilian official told The Miami Herald that the country is trying to open its doors to at least three million foreign workers.

But Brazil is mostly giving work visas to immigrants with high levels of education, like doctors, engineers and people with technical degrees.

An Amnesty International official who spoke to the BBC said that this policy "creates a market for smugglers" because workers who have little education but are also needed for other types of jobs in Brazil end up searching for someone who can get them into the country.

There's no clear indication yet on how large the human smuggling business is in South America. But at this point what smugglers in Peru make is still low when compared to what the smugglers, known as coyotes, charge along the Mexico-U.S. border.

According to Haitian and Senegalese immigrants interviewed by the BBC, Peruvian smugglers are charging people $200 per head to cross from Peru into Brazil. Coyotes who smuggle immigrants along the Mexico-U.S. border usually charge ten times as much, as Border Patrol efforts make this crossing a much riskier business.

Why the comparison? The point is coming where a job in Brazil for an undocumented immigrant is looking as good, if not better, than a job for an immigrant trying to get into the United States. And it would cost the immigrant going to Brazil just roughly a tenth of the price of trying to get into the U.S.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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