Australia has been holding over 2,000 illegal refugees on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. These are individuals who tried to enter Australia illegally, something that Australia, unlike the U.S., does not permit. The refugees are from Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Sudan, and some are described as stateless.
The Obama administration, for reasons that remain unclear, agreed with Australia’s government to resettle some of these illegals inside the United States. The number that Obama agreed to take was classified, but subsequent reports suggest that it is 1,250. Obama’s agreement, which was secret at the time, was the subject of a harsh protest by Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Bob Goodlatte.
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump correctly termed the Obama administration’s agreement with Australia a “dumb deal.” But now, according to the Associated Press as reported in the Japan Times, Vice President Mike Pence has reaffirmed the agreement on behalf of the Trump administration. Pence is in Australia, on the first leg of his Asian tour:
Trump’s anger over the agreement led to a tense phone call with Turnbull in January and an angry tweet in which the president called the deal “dumb.”
“President Trump has made it clear that we’ll honor the agreement — that doesn’t mean we admire the agreement,” Pence said during a joint news conference with Turnbull.
The fallout over the deal has strained the typically cozy alliance between the U.S. and Australia.
But that is only because Obama agreed to take the illegal refugees in the first place. He obviously had no duty to do so.
I don’t know whether Trump is following through with the agreement because he believes Obama made a commitment that it would be improper to back out on, which seems like an entirely reasonably view. Or perhaps Trump is using the refugees as a bargaining chip as he tries to line up as much Asian/Pacific support as possible for his strategy vis-a-vis North Korea. Be that as it may, the deal will be worthwhile, from our point of view, only if the 1,250 refugees are resettled in the Hamptons, or perhaps in Marin County.