Início / Recursos / Recortes de imprensa / 2009
Local, national groups aid Portuguese-speaking immigrants



December 16, 2009 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON - People who emigrate to the United States face social, cultural and, often, language barriers. Unaware of their rights, the new arrivals frequently need help in getting their children incorporated into the school system and may find it difficult to become involved in the local community.

For immigrants from Portugal and Brazil, national and local organizations aim to decrease the obstacles they face when newly arrived in the United States.

In Washington, PALCUS, the Portuguese-American Leadership Council of the United States, takes positions on laws that directly affect the Portuguese community and acts as a voice for people of Portuguese descent and those whose backgrounds are in Portuguese-speaking countries. Laws relating to visa waivers and deportation are often their focus.

In New Bedford, the Immigrants' Assistance Center works directly with immigrants to help them apply for citizenship and find adequate housing, food and clothing. It also assists with their medical needs, advises them on their rights and generally helps them integrate into the American way of life.

Though founded almost four decades ago by members of the local Portuguese community, the center today offers assistance to all immigrant communities. Still, given the high percentage of Portuguese-Americans in the city and region, working with that community is an important part of its activities.

The organization's purpose is to act as the voice of the immigrant population in New Bedford, said Helena Marques, the center's executive director.

"We do a lot of one-on-one work with people," she said. "We are aware of PALCUS, and PALCUS being in Washington is a good thing. We are more of a direct service, we're right on the front lines of issues, where I think PALCUS is more like an advocacy."

Her nonprofit, multiservice agency helps serve about 5,000 immigrants per year and also reflects the immigrant population it is helping, she said.

"We're all bilingual and bicultural," she said. "There are about five languages spoken here."

The organization holds fundraisers and speaks about the issues of the immigrant population. It also works directly with the community and offers food from the Boston Food Bank, works with local schools such as Roosevelt Middle School, holds English-language classes and provides help with citizenship.

"We also work with deportation, unfortunately," Marques said. "We do a lot of exchanging information between the United States and Portugal."

The 2000 U.S. census showed there were 1.15 million people of Portuguese descent and 65,875 of Brazilian descent living in the country. Of the 203,120 who emigrated from Portugal, 66,625 live in Massachusetts, according to the census. Of the 212,430 Brazilians living in the United States, 36,670 are in Massachusetts, with a large proportion of them living in the New Bedford area.

PALCUS unites the Portuguese community throughout the nation by inviting its members and prominent people of Portuguese heritage to its annual event, said Fernando G. Rosa, the organization's vice chairman.

"Our next gala will be in Massachusetts," he said. "There is a committee planning the event; it might be in Fall River, New Bedford or even Cambridge. We're not sure."

PALCUS focuses on policies and legislation relating to the Portuguese community.

"We're not trying to solve any problems for any individual on an individual basis; that is not what we do," Rosa said.

It may sometimes refer a case to another organization, he said, but "we do not have a staff that solves individual problems."

PALCUS works with members of Congress to hear about what their Portuguese constituents want and to discuss the issues the group is advocating.

One of the biggest issues PALCUS deals with is deportation and its affect on families.

"Some of the conversations we've had have changed some laws" Rosa said.

PALCUS meets with community leaders from California to New England who advise them on issues they should support in Washington.

"We deal with issues more on a national level, issues that could affect all of the community, all at once," he said.

Becoming an active member of PALCUS, or even helping at a local immigration center, allows one to become "involved in an organization," Rosa said. "It not so much is a benefit for you, but for the community. Individuals continue coming together and bring different issues to the table and to the conversation.", aqui.

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