The Obama administration has written a secret deal that could let Australia ship more than 2,400 refugees waiting to enter its borders over to the U.S. instead, including refugees from terrorism-connected countries such as Somalia and Syria, two top Republican congressmen said Tuesday.
But the details of the agreement have been deemed classified by the administration, shielding Americans from knowledge of what President Obama has agreed to, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
They have seen the agreement and said there’s no reason it should be hidden from the public.
“The American people have a right to be fully aware of the actions of their government regarding foreign nationals who may be admitted to the United States,” the congressmen wrote. “American taxpayers not only foot the bill for the majority of the refugee resettlements in the United States, but they bear any consequences regarding the security implications of those admitted to the U.S.”
Australian authorities are frightened that the deal could go south under President-elect Donald Trump, who has been harshly critical of the Obama administration’s refugee policy.
Last week, after a man who entered the U.S. as a Somali refugee mounted an attack on the campus of Ohio State University, Mr. Trump repeated his campaign pledge to curtail immigration from countries with connections to terrorism.
“Just so you understand, people are pouring in from regions of the Middle East. We have no idea who they are, where they come from, what they are thinking, and we’re going to stop that dead cold flat,” he said at a rally in Ohio.
Mr. Goodlatte and Mr. Grassley said some of the migrants at issue come from Somalia, Syria, Iran and Sudan.
They are being held in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where they were detoured after they tried to reach Australia. Australian officials have refused to resettle them, and they have become a black eye for that country’s administration as human rights groups protest the conditions of their detention.
Homeland Security referred questions to the State Department, which said it would respond directly to the congressmen about their call for declassification.
Australian officials have said the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees would be responsible for processing the lucky migrants who would be shipped to the U.S. — just as the UNHCR is responsible for initial screening of applicants to the U.S. from the rest of the globe.
The Obama administration had set an ambitious goal for accepting refugees this year, but has so far been making slow progress.
The pace of refugees from Syria has fallen precipitously, with just 962 people admitted in November. That’s down from 1,297 a month before, and down from an average of nearly 2,500 a month from July through September.