IMMIGRATIONBrazil’s Election and South America’s Looming Migration Woes

By Gil Guerra

Published 11 October 2022

The second round Brazil’s presidential election, to be held 30 October, might plunge the highly polarized country into a political chaos. One side-effect would be the mass migration of Brazilians fleeing instability, exacerbating the hectic state of migration at the U.S. southern border. Brazilian migrants will join the growing number of migrants from Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela in reshaping migration trends.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro shocked political observers on Sunday [3 October 2022] by vastly overperforming his polling averages in the first round of the Brazilian presidential election and forcing his primary rival, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, into a tense runoff later this month.

Several leading Brazilian political experts have been apprehensive about this outcome because of Bolsonaro’s refusal to accept the possibility of a legitimate defeat, the highly polarized state of the Brazilian electorate, and the complicated ties between Bolsonaro and the Brazilian military. A close election later this month could aggravate the possibility of Bolsonaro refusing to relinquish the presidency in the event of his defeat, which would plunge Brazil into a fully-fledged political crisis.

While much has been written in prominent outlets about the potential geopolitical implications of this scenario, relatively little attention has been paid to one of the side-effects it is almost certain to cause: the mass migration of Brazilians fleeing instability that would exacerbate the hectic state of migration at the U.S. southern border.

In recent years, migratory flows at the southern border have been primarily composed of Mexicans and Central Americans seeking to escape economic and social unrest. More recently, migrants from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua fleeing socialist regimes have come to the forefront as another grouping of countries currently reshaping migration trends.

Due to these prevailing narratives about who arrives at the border, countries that do not fall within these categories or currently exhibit low migration numbers are often an afterthought. While anticipating future developments always entails a significant amount of guesswork, there is good reason to believe that South America is currently poised to become the next epicenter of migration to the U.S. southern border. In the specific cases of Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, unique circumstances are on a collision course with ingrained dysfunctions to create a new wave of South American migrants.

Contemporary border encounters with Brazilians have been far lower than the average for Latin America or South America, even when excluding Mexico. In the past three years, Brazil has averaged 38,590 encounters at the U.S. southern border compared to an average of 47,159 for South America and 86,099 for the rest of Latin America (excluding Mexico).