Engraved on the pedestal of the Statute of Liberty is a poem by Emma Lazarus with the famous lines "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
The poem has historically been associated with the mass exodus of European immigrants as they passed through Ellis Island in the late 19th and 20th centuries and marked a bygone era when it was easier for immigrants to earn citizenship.
In the modern immigrant experience, as described by several Brazilians at Monday's Day Without Immigrants demonstration, there is no more Ellis Island or lady with a beacon hand that glows, as described in the Lazarus poem.
Many Brazilians said they live here illegally and have little hope of becoming U.S. citizens. Although Monday's demonstration was part of a national event that encouraged immigrants to boycott work, school and shopping to show how much they matter to their communities, many of the Island Brazilians used the event to vent their frustrations about U.S. immigration policy.
Turnout for the demonstration was relatively light; approximately 60 Brazilians participated in the event. From the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School to restaurants in town centers, few absences were reported, and several business owners said most employees, immigrants included, showed up for work.
The demonstration began around 1 p.m. with a gathering in the parking lot of the Brazilian Tropical Bakery near the Triangle in Edgartown. Over the next hour, more people joined the coalition, many holding up protest signs and brightly colored Brazilian flags. Just after 2 p.m., the group jumped in their cars and headed toward Vineyard Haven, arriving at Five Corners minutes later where they lined the streets and encouraged motorists to honk their horns to support the cause. Police said the event was orderly and problem-free.
Some demonstrators said they participated in the event to protest proposed new immigration laws currently being considered in Congress and in several states. A new Georgia immigration law, considered one of the nation's toughest, requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for a felony or drunk driving. Georgia is also the first state to train officers to start the deportation process for any illegal immigrants found during normal law enforcement activities, like traffic stops or drug busts. It also allows authorities to deport immigrants for previous arrests.
Congress and at least 14 other states have been working on similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Marcos Cardoso, a carpenter who moved to the Island from Brazil in 1996, said the new laws worry many immigrants here on the Island.
"We don't understand why they want to pass these laws. Why do they look for ways to make it difficult for immigrants?" Mr. Cardoso said.
Demonstrators argued that Brazilian workers are valuable to the Island economy because they perform many jobs that Americans otherwise would not.
"We do the [expletive deleted] jobs. We do the jobs nobody else wants to do. We build the houses and mow the lawns. No American wants a job doing dishes, but Brazilians will do that job. And they will do the job and not complain," said Sergio Paulo, a native Brazilian who works as a mason.
Carlos DeOliveira, who works as an HVAC technician, said more people wanted to participate, but were unable to get the day off from work. Others declined to participate for fear of losing of their jobs, he said.
"There are a lot of people who wanted to be here to show their support. The Brazilians love it here and want to stay here and work here, and they want to stay here and raise their families without any problems," he said.
Demonstrators said they would support an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy that would grant amnesty to immigrants already here.
John Ribeiro, a construction worker who has lived here for over 11 years, said new immigration laws following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 have made it extremely difficult for Brazilians to get work visas to legally work in this country. He also said it was difficult for people to return to Brazil to visit their families because they will not be allowed back into the country.
"Some people haven't seen their family in years," Mr. Ribeiro said.
Although a majority of the Brazilians are undocumented immigrants and illegal aliens, there is little risk that they will randomly be deported, Oak Bluffs Lieut. Timothy Williamson said. Only the Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has the power to deport illegal immigrants, and they rarely visit the Island, he said.
"They have bigger issues to deal with then someone caught driving without a license," he said.
Tristan Israel, a business owner and Tisbury selectman, said Brazilians started to come to the Island in the 1980s to fill a growing labor shortage. Before that, a majority of seasonal jobs were performed by college kids. But as the real estate marked boomed in the late 1980s and 1990s, the price of housing soared to the point where many young people could not afford to stay on the Island, he said.
"Brazilians are a little more adept at finding ways around the housing shortage. They are willing to make certain sacrifices to live and work here," Mr. Israel said.
He said he believes lawmakers should consider a new policy that gives illegal immigrants a better chance at citizenship.
"The government should consider a system that doesn't turn a blind eye to them and their status in this country," Mr. Israel said.
When European immigrants came to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they were able to apply for citizenship as soon as they stepped off the boat, making the country a safe haven from poverty and civil war for masses of people in other countries. But the Immigration Act of 1965 set a limit on the overall number of immigrants allowed in the country every year. The effects of the law are still being felt today, and have contributed to a serious illegal immigration problem across the country.
New immigration laws following the Sept. 11 attacks have made it even more difficult for immigrants to enter the country.
At Monday's demonstration, many Brazilians said they want go through the proper channels to become U.S. citizens, but said the current system makes it impossible.
"A lot of us want to do the right thing, to become legal," said one man who asked to be identified only as Carlos. "But some people are worried about attracting attention and being sent back to Brazil. They love Brazil, but they love America too. This is their home now, and they are scared of being sent away."