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Graham says tens of thousands of Brazilian immigrants ‘wearing designer clothes and Gucci bags’ are headed for Connecticut

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, an outspoken critic of President Biden’s immigration policies, said affluent Brazilians were illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and heading to Connecticut “wearing designer clothes and Gucci bags.”

In an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday, Graham (R-S.C.) was critical of the administration’s order to halt large-scale immigration arrests at job sites, with plans for a new approach to target employers who pay substandard wages and engage in exploitative labor practices.

“Now, what [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro] Mayorkas did today, calling off all the raids of worksite, is going to be another incentive for people to come, because the word is out,” Graham said. “You come, you claim asylum, you never leave. The policy choices of Biden are all over the world now.”

President Biden promised a more humane approach to U.S. immigration policy, but his administration has already faced two crises on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Video: Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

The senator, who recently visited the border in Arizona, added: “We had 40,000 Brazilians come through the Yuma Sector alone headed for Connecticut wearing designer clothes and Gucci bags. This is not economic migration anymore.”

“People see an open America,” he continued. “They’re taking advantage of us. And it won’t be long before a terrorist gets in this crowd.”

In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, Graham elaborated on his comments.

“Usually when you go to the border, you see people who are dressed really haggardly and who look like they’ve been through hell,” he said. “This time at Yuma, there were dozens that looked like they were checking into a hotel — and smartly dressed.”

“This is something new,” he added. “I would advise the Biden administration to do what the Obama administration did and fly them back.”

Graham said Connecticut was a destination, along with two other states that he could not remember based on what a Border Patrol agent told him about the growing Brazilian communities.

Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Graham, had defended the senator’s comments, citing what he saw during his recent trip to the border and news reports about Brazilian immigrants. Bishop also provided photographs of luggage and shoes taken at the border.

“They have had thousands of Brazilians coming through there,” he said. “As Senator Graham noted in Yuma, the luggage was nicer than his own.”

None of the luggage in the photos provided to The Post appeared to be Gucci. The most obvious clothing in the photos was a pair of fairly clean Puma tennis shoes without shoelaces.

“We saw luggage and attire that’s highly unusual for someone who would be supposedly traveling through the desert on a long journey into the U.S.,” Bishop said. “No dust or mud on them. But they do have luggage with the airline bag check attached.”

Graham said he plans to speak to the Brazilian ambassador to the United States.

“This has got to change,” he said. “I think what’s going on is the word’s gotten out that if you get to America, you get to stay and live. Brazil is deteriorating right now.” ”

Biden administration orders halt to ICE raids at worksites

Graham was referencing a report from the Yuma County sheriff that 3,400 migrants — mostly from Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba — spent the weekend in Border Patrol holding facilities in Yuma.

Record numbers of Brazilians have been arrested at the southern U.S. border this year, according to Customs and Border Protection data. During the first 11 months of fiscal 2021, more than 46,200 Brazilians were apprehended. The number for all of 2019 was just below 17,900. Brazilians are now the No. 6 most-detained nationality.

The Brazilians are believed to be part of a larger wave of Latin American migrants fleeing a region still struggling to get control of the coronavirus pandemic and high unemployment who are hoping for a more lenient response from the White House than they would have received under President Donald Trump. Brazilian migration to the United States has increased significantly since 2018, when right-wing politician Jair Bolsonaro was elected president.

If the migrants were from Mexico or the countries in the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — they would be released immediately, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement is deciding to release these individuals coming from other countries after the Border Patrol processes them and turns them over.

Those who can prove that they face persecution in their homelands might be eligible for asylum. But backlogs in the U.S. immigration courts mean that those released in the United States can often remain in the country for years while their cases are being processed.

Graham had been a vocal proponent of immigration reform for years, most notably as a member of the Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators who advocated for legislation in 2013 that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and reducing visa backlogs, among other comprehensive changes.