At 10 a.m., on streets lined with colorfully painted buildings in the historic downtown of Veracruz, Mexico, it's an uncomfortably hot and humid 89 degrees. The sun is blazing and there isn't a cloud in the sky.
This is not where you want to be standing all day with a hungry, exhausted toddler.
But waiting in front of the port city's National Migration Institute's offices, I counted 15 young children, ranging in ages from 2 to 13, and about 40 to 50 adults in their 20s and 30s. Most were Haitian refugees.
Because of the worsening global climate crisis, and political and economic instability in these countries, massive migrant caravans aren't going away anytime soon. We know that families are coming – we must partner with our North American neighbors, and find a humane way to process folks.
Mexico needs help
Many of the children I see waiting in front of the city's immigration offices in Veracruz were born in Chile or Brazil. They speak Spanish, as do their parents. Chilean and Brazilian citizens are allowed to stay in Mexico for 180 days without a visa.
@comar_sg Mexico’s refugee agency has 6 offices in the whole country. An Immigration office in Veracruz is inundated with #Haitians seeking residency b/c Chile & Brazil expelled them from the south, and word from the US is that they are sending 3 planes a day back to #Haiti. pic.twitter.com/4dCGHRGM0C
— CarliWrites (@CarliPierson) September 29, 2021
'The coronavirus was really bad'
A woman waiting outside immigration, who did not want to be named, tells me she's about four months pregnant but has not yet seen a doctor. She also says no one in her family of four has been vaccinated against COVID-19. "The coronavirus was really bad," she tells me, explaining that she had to leave her work as a maid in Chile when the pandemic hit. "There was no work, no food, my kids couldn't go to school."
Like thousands of others, she and her family decided to head north.
I ask where she wants to end up. She looks down at her cellphone and tells me she's heard that the United States is deporting people so it's not a good time to come.
Natural and man-made disasters
Haiti is a place of resilient, proud people; it is a land of magnificent revolution and considerable natural resources.
But years of foreign sacking and military interventions by the United States and France took an inevitable and massive toll. This, in addition to corruption, dictatorships and ineptitude in the national government, and the doomed-to-fail, self-serving republic of foreign nongovernmental organizations that profited from the development projects, fatally excluded Haitians from their own recovery.
Since the 2010 earthquake, a continuum of disasters has made things harder – including COVID-19, political instability before and after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in early July, an earthquake in August and Tropical Storm Grace, which hit just days later.
We need solutions
In an exclusive conversation last week with the USA TODAY Editorial Board, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas' voice trembled with emotion when he was asked what kept him up at night and he responded, "Everything." I believe him and do not envy his responsibilities.
I congratulate the Biden administration for letting thousands of Haitians into the United States and allowing them to apply to regularize their status.
I also, in part, welcome the administration's new guidelines to Immigration and Customs Enforcement not to pursue people merely because of their immigration status. These guidelines, unfortunately, give individual ICE officers considerable discretion over which migrants to detain, which sounds vague and overly broad, and raises serious issues of oversight and enforcement.
So, while it's true that every nation has the right to regulate foreigners within its borders, there are exceptions that depend on other questions of law. We've seen massive waves of migration from countries that the United States helped destabilize over decades. The American government owes a debt in blood to these people and their descendants.
Democrats must work trilaterally with Mexico and Canada to expedite migration solutions. Families must be able to move, work, enroll their kids in school and have their basic human needs met. With 10.9 million job openings in the USA, and Americans increasingly avoiding underpaid, stressful work after the pandemic, surely we could offer a chance to work and earn a living wage, as we determine immigration applications on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with international law.
The noble desire to work and live a good life, and be able to provide for one's children, is what this country was built on. Haitian families waiting in long lines, under an unrelenting sun, with little more than a bottle of milk for a long day ahead are in search of this same dream, not handouts, as some Republicans might have you believe.
Carli Pierson is an attorney and a USA TODAY Opinion writer. She travels between Mexico and the United States, and has travelled to Haiti several times since 2009. Follow her on Twitter: @CarliPierson
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: More migrant caravans are coming. We need humane solutions.