This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Brunna is a 27-year-old cleaner from Cuiabá in Brazil, who's been living as an illegal immigrant in south London for the last four years. She came to England alone, with no knowledge of the controversy that immigration engenders here. She viewed England as a liberal, welcoming country that seemed a good option to start a new life in.
Brazilian nationals represent the fifth largest group of illegal immigrants in the UK, with up to 2,000 being deported each year. Despite their large numbers, they rarely receive much media attention, with the press tending to focus instead on immigration from Eastern Europe, Africa, and majority Muslim countries. Perhaps this is because Brazilians don't tend to fit within the narrative of illegal immigrants desperately cramming themselves into the back of trucks to gain entry to the UK. Most simply book a flight to England and then overstay their visas.
Without illegal immigrants, most British tabloids would struggle to fill their pages. They're constantly demonized, blamed for everything from crime to terrorism. I wanted to know what it's like to be part of such a stigmatized group, and also what the realities of having to spend your life below the radar are, so I met up with Brunna to chat with her about her life.
VICE: What made you want to start a new life in another country?
Brunna: Brazil isn't safe. The streets are full of danger, and even the schools are dangerous. Some of the kids are very bad. Their families haven't taught them right from wrong or given them any rules to follow. There's a lot of theft and robberies, and also lots of drugs going around at the schools. The wages are also low in Brazil. It isn't a country in which it's easy to earn money.
What made you choose the UK as a location to move to?
It's a good country. The people are nice, and I like the cold weather. It was easy to get into as well.
What made it easier to get into than other countries?
I wanted to go to America, but you need to apply for a visa in advance before going there. In the UK, you just need to answer some questions that immigration officials ask you at the airport. The officials didn't ask me very many questions, though. They looked me up and down and then stamped my passport to say I was allowed in. I then overstayed the time that I was allowed to stay here for, and have been here ever since. When I came here four years ago, Britain was welcoming to immigrants. Now, it isn't as welcoming.
How easy has it been to make a new life for yourself here?
It's very good here. It's easy to get a job because there are lots of immigrants here already who can help you find work. The other immigrants also helped me to get a room in a house, so it was easy to find accommodation. I've never been aware of the police looking for me or trying to deport me. If you're a good person and don't do anything wrong, then they don't usually give you any trouble, although there's still a risk that people who don't like you will report you to immigration.
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What are the main obstacles that being an illegal immigrant causes for you?
It's not easy to get treated by a doctor when I'm sick. I can't get treated by the National Health Service, so it's very expensive. The dentist is the same. I've never been to the hospital here, but I think it also costs a lot of money. I also need to go to a Portuguese-speaking doctor because my English isn't perfect, and it would be difficult for me to explain what's wrong to an English-speaking doctor.
How much English did you speak when you first came here?
None, which made things very difficult. I only had one close Brazilian friend when I first arrived, and she sometimes wasn't with me to act as a translator, so I had to learn some English very quickly in order to get by. Luckily, there are a lot of other people who don't speak English very well in London, and the other foreigners here were very understanding because they had been in the same situation as me.
What do you think are the main misconceptions that people have about illegal immigrants?
People think we're bad and dangerous people, or that immigrants are terrorists. Not all of us are bad; some of us just want to live a good life.
What do you think of the result of the Brexit vote and all the anti-immigrant sentiment that's come with it?
I think after the Brexit goes through, it'll be very difficult to live here. It'll be harder to get a job, and people won't be very nice to immigrants. I've personally never experienced any anti-immigrant discrimination, but some of my friends have. People have told them, "Go back to your own country. This is not your country." I think Brazil is more welcoming of foreigners than England.
Do you think the rise of the UK Independent Party and anti-immigrant leaders like Donald Trump have made it harder for illegal immigrants in Western countries?
I think Donald Trump says he doesn't like immigrants but doesn't really believe his own words. He knows that America wouldn't function without immigrants. The US needs them. The same thing is true over here. People say they don't want immigrants here, but it's a lie because they need us. English people won't do the jobs that immigrants do. UKIP and Donald Trump have made it harder for us because they've made people afraid of us, which isn't good. They've made people crazy and caused some people to want to do crazy things to immigrants. However, in spite of all that, I think my life here will continue to be good.
Have you got any plans to go back home, or do you think you'll stay in the UK forever?
There's no way I'd ever live in Brazil again, although I might go back for holidays. There's no way I'd start a family and bring kids up there. I'll either stay here forever or try to get into America.