April 22 (UPI) — Vice President Mike Pence said the United States would “honor” a deal with Australia in the waning days of former President Barack Obama’s term to resettle refugees, an agreement President Donald Trump called “dumb.”
In exchange, Australia agreed to resettle individuals who were prevented from entering the United States illegally and subsequently placed in immigration camps in central America.
Australia had come under international pressure for continuing to operate two refugee camps off its shores on the island nation of Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The camps are where asylum-seekers were taken when halted by the Australian navy before reaching the nation’s shore. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised tighter enforcement of immigration laws, though the camps quickly grew overcrowded, leading critics to successfully challenge their constitutionality in Australian courts. Faced with a court order to close the Manus Island camp, Turnbull turned to the United States for help.
Under the deal, Obama agreed to take in any asylum-seekers willing to move to the United States in exchange for help closing similar U.S.-administered camps in central America. Neither side has officially said how many refugees might be included in the final swap.
The agreement was announced days after Trump’s victory in the November election and he promised to “study this dumb deal.”
The topic caused a frosty exchange during the initial phone call between Trump and Turnbull after Trump took office.
Speaking in Sydney on Saturday, Pence said the the Trump administration, mindful of its longstanding alliance with Australia, a critical regional partner, would honor the Obama deal, even if it still disagreed with it.
“President Trump has made it clear that we’ll honor the agreement, but it doesn’t mean we admire the agreement,” Pence said.
He added the reason for going forward “can rightly be seen as a reflection of the enormous importance of the historical alliance between the United States and Australia.”
He said the refugees would be subject to stricter vetting procedures put in place since Trump took office.