The Obama Administration's September 30, 2014 announcement that refugee protection for certain minors fleeing Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala will be provided via in-country processing may be a welcome acknowledgement that these Central American countries belong on the United States refugee resettlement list, but it will do little for most of today's refugees.

In-country (as opposed to third-country) processing is not a preferred method for adjudicating refugee status. This is particularly true when the "persecutors" are playing quasi-governmental roles, and/or are insurgents who have invaded or taken over the government.

When I was in Haiti in 1993 and observed the start of U.S. in-country processing in that country, applicants were required to walk into the downtown Port au Prince building in broad daylight for their appointments with U.S. officials. Inside the offices, multiple interviews were conducted simultaneously in a large conference room. To say the least, the process lacked confidentiality protections, a serious flaw in an environment riddled with spies and informants (and gangs, and paid-off police).

Although recognition of the need to allocate refugee resettlement numbers to Central American countries is important, it will not end flight to the United States from conditions of persecution. Moreover, contrary to what many appear to believe, coming to the US and seeking asylum upon arrival is not the "wrong way," as opposed to the "right way" of applying through an in-country process. Our statute expressly contemplates that asylum seekers in flight from persecution may arrive at a port of entry or border crossing and apply for asylum. That is consistent with the United Nations Refugee Convention and Protocol, with which the U.S. is expected to be in compliance (and is in compliance, with some exceptions, including the U.S.-added obstacle requiring asylum seekers arriving at our borders to first pass a credible fear test before being allowed to apply for asylum).

As for the 4,000 refugee slots provided, it is grossly inadequate and ultimately unlikely to benefit more than approximately 250 children. It certainly will not stop children from fleeing to the U.S. and cannot justify their repatriation. To make refugee protection through in-country processing a meaningful alternative to asylum requests at the border, the number would have to be increased dramatically.

Another flaw is in the apparent requirement that the child must have a "lawful" relative in the United States. The definition to be applied to this relationship requirement is unknown at this time, but is likely to be the accepted “qualifying family member” term applicable to visa petitions and waivers. Although it is understandable that the U.S. is interested in reunifying these children with their families, many of the parents of minors now facing persecution in their home countries entered the U.S. without papers and are not lawfully in the U.S., foreclosing reunification for the vast majority of children, if this requirement is enforced.

Parents who are lawfully present in the U.S., may have included their child as a derivative on their own immigrant visa application, or petitioned for him/her, so that the small number of refugee spots may be distributed to children of lawful permanent residents holding not-yet-current priority dates after February 2013. While it might be possible to argue for an expansion of the definition of "lawful" to include children of parents who have been granted asylum (asylees), or parents who have TPS, the number of available spots is so small that (unless it is significantly increased) the numbers will be exhausted quickly.

I support designating as refugees the children who are fleeing the rampant violence, danger, corruption and outright persecution perpetrated by the gang insurgencies in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Much as I dislike being a naysayer, this gesture is not a panacea for any of it.

(c). 2014. All rights reserved, Lory D. Rosenberg