For 17 years, Jose (“Eddie”) Erivelton Pereira Abreu has lived and worked on Martha’s Vineyard, building a successful landscaping business, and raising his three children, Neyla, 9, Kyla, 6, and Anezio, 2, with his wife Jennifer.
Now the Abreu family’s lives have been turned upside down after Jose went through the immigration process to try and receive a green card. In an interview with The Times, Jennifer, who was born on the Vineyard, and Jose, who called in via video call, recounted the traumatic story of their family being split apart.
In 2004, a 17-year-old Jose arrived in the U.S. without proper documentation, along with his cousin. Immigration officials detained him for a few hours, but then released him, allowing him to join his parents on Martha’s Vineyard. Immigration officials said there would be a follow-up court date, but Jose never received a notice. “They said they were going to send me a letter with the court date,” Jose said. “I never received anything.”
Jose began working on the Island and attending classes at ACE MV. He eventually met Jennifer, and the couple married in 2012. One year and one child later, the Abreus began the process to get Jose’s citizenship papers. “We said, ‘Let’s try to file,’ because I had my first child and was scared that something could happen to him,” she said.
Since then he’s been in contact with immigration officials, and finally got a green card appointment last year.
The Abreus were granted several waivers from the government for Jose’s green card application: the I-130, because Jose was married to Jennifer, a U.S. citizen; the I-212, which waives those who stay in the U.S. over 365 days, allowing them to reapply for admission to the U.S.; and the I-601A, a hardship waiver for immigrants who are relatives of U.S. citizens — in Jose’s case, he is married to Jennifer and provides for them and their three children.
“It’s never guaranteed, but with the waivers, it’s supposed to build your case up. That’s a government approval of you being here,” she said. “[The waivers] are saying, We know you did something wrong, and we’re going to allow you to come stay in this country.”
After getting the waivers, the Abreus were notified in June that Jose was scheduled to appear the following month in Brazil for an interview. The Abreus’ lawyers, Boston-based Joyce & Associates, a law firm that specializes in immigration, told the couple the interview should be straightforward with the waivers.
Speaking to The Times by phone, William Joyce, managing partner of Joyce & Associates, said the couple had the appropriate waivers, but the firm informed them of the risk involved in going.
“They were made aware of that, and they went,” Joyce said. “In my view, to say we abandoned them is not accurate. We did everything we could possibly do.”
In a follow-up email statement to The Times, Joyce said he and his team were devastated to see the Abreus’ story in The Times. He said that there is always some risk when an undocumented immigrant leaves the U.S. to obtain a visa, and risk is always explained to clients numerous times, and with clarity.
“There is nothing I would not do within the four corners of the law to help a client. For clients [who] have had these issues we have gone to the embassy, we have gone to the State Department and we have appealed to politicians,” Joyce wrote.
He said his team would never abandon a client, and only inform a client if there was nothing more the legal team could do.
“We would only have a client continue to engage in the process if they had the appropriate waivers to pursue the process,” Joyce wrote in part. “If a client has an approved marriage petition, appropriate waivers, and consular processing papers in order, we advise them of the next steps in the process and the associated risks. There is a portion of the law that under Section 212(a)(6)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that an individual who without reasonable cause fails to appear for his Immigration Court hearing is inadmissible to the United States. There is no waiver for this bar. This section of law often is not raised at a consular interview, and if it is raised, an individual explains why they did not go to the hearing, and the consular official can then decide how to apply it.
“In our experience, they will typically accept the explanation and continue the process. A general reason one may not attend an immigration hearing is being a minor and being unable or unaware of how or when to do so. The element that can be interpreted is ‘reasonable cause’ for not attending a hearing. While it is uncommon, it is a risk that a hearing officer may apply this part of the law. If a hearing officer does not find ‘reasonable cause,’ it is within their discretion to uphold the permanent bar.”
The couple disagreed.
“Our lawyer said we were safe to go,” Jennifer said. “Which was wrong on their part, and we went thinking everything would be fine, and we went there, and they said ‘No, we don’t want to give it to you.’
“[Jose] got every single document we could find, every taxes he’s paid since he’s been in America. Everything extra, just in case, we put it into a folder. All the medical records, all the kids’ records, everything we could possibly need,” Jennifer said.
The Abreus had return plane tickets booked as well a few weeks after the visa interview in Brazil. When they arrived at the U.S. consulate in Brazil, Jennifer was informed she was not allowed inside. The binder the couple prepared with all their documents was taken and rifled through and mixed up. During his interview, Jose was required to stand 10 feet from the interviewer behind glass, and could not hear questions clearly. Jose was told he did not have any waivers in his binder, and they could not approve his visa. They were told they could email the waivers, but it did not change the consulate’s mind. For the next six months, the family stayed in Brazil, meeting with the consulate, and having back-and-forth exchanges to try and reverse the decision. In the fall, the couple received a denial notice, saying Jose’s application was denied, and he would not be allowed to reapply until July 14, 2026.
Even though Jose was born and raised in Brazil, he left at such a young age, and has been living on the Vineyard for more than half his life, that the Vineyard has become his home.
“Everything I know, everything I learned was there. I started working, making money, and learning about business. After a while you start forgetting about Brazil. We started the business, we bought a house, everything in my life is there. Then out of the blue everything just falls apart.”
Jose said he loves to snowboard, and take his family on trips to Vermont. The family is also part of the Catholic Church on the Island.
“He’s lived most of his life here. When we went to Brazil, even he had trouble with Portuguese because, you know, you get Americanized. There were words even he didn’t know how to say in Portuguese,” she said.
Jose’s absence is not only felt by his family. “He would help a lot with anything on the Island, any person that needs help. He’d interpret for parents that don’t know English when it comes to school, to anything,” Jennifer said.
Now Jose may not be able to return to his life on the Vineyard for five years.
“In five years, I won’t have a business; in five years, I won’t have a house,” Jose said.
Family separated again
Jennifer’s visa to enter Brazil was set to expire on Jan. 19. As she was getting ready to board her 11:50 pm flight from São Paulo back to the U.S., immigration officials said the couple’s 6-year-old daughter was not allowed to board the plane.
The Abreus went to the Federal Police of Brazil in Vitoria to make sure their children would be allowed to leave the country, and were told they would be fine to leave.
“They told us that because she’s a U.S. citizen and we were all traveling on our U.S. passports, returning to our own country, that they wouldn’t stop her, and we should be fine,” Jennifer said.
But once they arrived in São Paulo, customs officials stopped Jennifer, her children, and Jennifer’s brother, who was traveling with the family.
According to the U.S. embassy and consulates website, Brazilian law requires that any minor who is a Brazilian citizen — including dual nationals who are both U.S. and Brazilian citizens — must have permission from each parent to travel within Brazil or to leave the country. When minors travel with both parents, no authorization is needed.
“The U.S. Embassy and its consulates cannot intervene in Brazilian immigration matters or request that this requirement be waived for U.S. citizen travelers,” the website reads.
The customs officials cleared the rest of the family, but singled out the Abreus’ middle daughter, Kyla, and sent Jennifer to the Federal Police in São Paulo.
“The guy was being a jerk to me, saying I couldn’t travel with [my daughter], it was illegal because it could be child trackiffing,” Jennifer said. “I gave them the birth certificate, U.S. passport.”
Jennifer even gave the officials Kyla’s expired Brazilian passport, which had authorization from both parents inside, but because it was expired, they said she couldn’t travel.
“But why are they letting my other two children travel, but not her? They said ‘she has to stay,’” Jennifer said.
The federal police gave Jennifer an ultimatum, either leave her 6-year-old daughter at the São Paulo airport at midnight, with her father several hours away, or stay with her and “pay the consequences” of overstaying her visa.
Jennifer called her husband on the phone, and the two pleaded with the officials, trying to give verbal authorization, but to no avail.
Jennifer’s brother was able to stay behind, but the officials split the family up. “They made me and my other two children go through. I’m crying, they’re crying, everyone’s crying. Then they picked me for an extra security check,” an emotional Jennifer said. “I got on a plane for nine hours not knowing where my child was.”
Jennifer’s brother went back the next day to try to get on a plane with Kyla, but was denied. Jose’s uncle drove three hours to the airport, but the customs officials demanded documents that they didn’t have.
“They went to the bus station, and the bus would not allow [my brother] to travel with her, so they had to spend an extra night in São Paulo,” Jennifer said.
Kyla has since been reunited with her father, but the family now faces twice the lengthy bureaucratic challenges, and has to renew Kyla’s Brazilian passport and secure authorizations. Even once they receive those, Jose is not allowed to leave Brazil, and Jennifer has to wait six more months before she can travel back to Brazil
“We’re suffering. It’s really hard being separated. My daughter’s very upset,” Jennifer said. “She was very confused …We spoke to her on threeway video chat, and she didn’t realize she was still in Brazil. She thought she was in a completely different country, and could not get to her Mom or her Dad.”
‘I feel like we are alone’
While dealing with the emotional toll of being separated, the Abreus are now also struggling financially, with Jose stuck in Brazil and unable to operate his landscaping business back home.
Abreu has a part-time job at the Edgartown School, but is now providing not only for herself, but also for Jose and Kyla in Brazil.
“Money in Brazil is really hard to come by, it’s a Third World country,” Jennifer said. “It’s hard to find work there in general. If you want to work on a farm, you can buy cows, plant coffee. He’s working on types of investments, but to invest in something you have to have money here, and we don’t want to spend all of our savings because that’s what we have to live off right now.”
After receiving the denial from the consulate, Jennifer said, their lawyer became unresponsive.
“Our lawyer pretty much abandoned us. He said there’s nothing more he can do for us, that we can continue contacting politicians and contacting newspapers,” she said. “They were very unresponsive once we got denied.”
Finding a new lawyer is also a challenge, but even if they do, Jennifer said they have to be careful with their finances. If Jennifer gets a full-time job, she would still have to pay for childcare and spend time away from her children, while they’re already going through the trauma of being separated from one parent.
“We are not looking for a GoFundMe or money. I just want to get my family back together,” Jose said.
People have asked Jennifer why she doesn’t move to Brazil for the next five years, but uprooting her children, moving to a new country, and giving up the schools and healthcare they have on the Island is not something they want to do.
Now the family feels they are at their wit’s end. “It’s been really hard, they cry a lot,” Jennifer said of her children who are with her on the Island. “Especially my 2-year-old, he’s very close to his father … we’ve never been separated, it’s always been the five of us.”
The Abreus have only gotten radio silence from the U.S. consulates in Brazil and the U.S. They said reaching out to politicians and the media is becoming their last hope.
Jennifer said she’s reached out to U.S. Rep. Bill Keating and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.
In a letter to Keating, Christopher Beard, Rio de Janeiro consular section chief, wrote that Jose’s case was carefully reviewed, and that he was ordered deported in 2005.
“The I-212 and the I-601A waivers obtained before his departure do not apply to this ineligibility, and were nullified by this 212(A)(6)(B) finding,” the letter reads in part.
Chris Matthews, the district outreach and communications director for Congressman Keating, told The Times that while the office could not comment on specific casework due to privacy concerns, Keating’s staff evaluates each constituent inquiry to determine the best course of action.
“We work directly with a liaison at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service on immigration casework, but we do not have the legal authority as a legislative office to overturn or force a decision in favor of a constituent with USCIS or any other federal agency. Although the outcome of congressional inquiries can sometimes be disappointing upon a formal response from an agency, we are always willing to re-evaluate a case upon a change in status,” Matthews said in part.
The offices of Warren and Markey have not responded to requests for comment over several days.
The Abreus’ poor treatment throughout the entire process has left them unsure of who can help them now. “I understand their job is to follow the laws, but they could have some compassion,” Jennifer said.
The family hopes by sharing their story, someone will be able to help them, or they can help another family. “Just getting the word out and see if someone can hear our story and they can help,” Jennifer said. “Or even if we can help other people. We’ve been meeting a lot of other people in the same situation as us.”
“I feel like we are alone,” Jose said. “Like we have no way to fix this.”