We're apparently stuck with that Australian refugee deal after all

Earlier this month I was asking what, if anything, was going to happen with the Obama era refugee deal which had been struck with Australia. They’ve got thousands of migrants, primarily from Iraq, Syria and other troubled regions, basically stuck in some island camps where they are coming into conflict with the local residents. The United States had said that we would be taking more than a thousand of them off their hands, but the President somewhat famously referred to it as “a dumb deal” he would have to study.

I suppose the study period is over because we got our answer from Vice President Pence when he stopped off in the Land Down Under this week. We still don’t like the deal, but it’s going to go through. Not, however, without the United States getting something in return. (NBC News)

Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday the United States would honor a controversial refugee deal with Australia which means 1,250 asylum seekers will be rehomed in America — a deal President Donald Trump had described as “dumb”.

Pence told a joint news conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney that the deal would be subject to vetting, and that honoring it “doesn’t mean that we admire the agreement”.

“We will honor this agreement out of respect to this enormously important alliance,” Pence said at Turnbull’s harbor side official residence in Sydney.

There’s obviously been some back room wheeling and dealing going on here because Turnbull was presenting Donald Trump with what amounted to a substantially large demand. After the vetting of immigrants and international travel bans became so much of the focus of the Trump presidency, and having been a constant refrain on the campaign trail, this agreement has precisely the wrong optics for Trump. But he’s also well known as a guy who can cut a deal and that’s what we appear to have here. First off, we may be taking the Islamic refugees off of Turnbull’s hands after they are thoroughly vetted, but Australia will be taking a similar number of refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras from the United States in exchange. (Is that a good trade? I’ll leave that up to the judgement of the reader.)

Dumping some South American refugees on Australia isn’t the only thing Trump’s getting however. Malcolm Turnbull has been in hot water over those refugee camps for some time now. He’s been taking a very firm stance in saying they won’t be allowed into his country, but options for what else to do with them have been limited. If this deal fell through entirely he’d have a serious mess on his hands. Trump has now essentially bailed out Malcolm Turnbull and cemented an important friendship. Having made a number of other world leaders “nervous” to say the least, President Trump probably wants to start lining up a few in his corner and now he has Australia’s leader owing him a favor.

It’s unclear when all of this is going to happen, though. Some vetting of Australia’s refugees has already been going on but there’s obviously a lot of work left to be done. It could be a couple more years before they are all cleared out at this rate.

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David Strom 2:31 PM on October 04, 2022
David Strom 1:31 PM on October 04, 2022