EXECUTIVE

Obama administration, Australia's deal called for 'special interest' refugees

President says he respects Australia as a country, but questions the logic of promise by the Obama administration to resettle nearly 1,200 asylum seekers being held on Pacific island camps

 

Despite President Donald Trump calling it “the worst deal ever,” the United States has reportedly agreed to keep a promise by the Obama administration to resettle nearly 1,200 asylum seekers being held on  Pacific island camps.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that during a weekend call, Trump had agreed to honor the agreement made by the Obama administration to resettle refugees.

Recent reports have suggested the conversation  between Trump and Turnbull was a fiery one. 

White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed on Wednesday that Trump had agreed to honor the deal. But a White House statement sent to Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday said, "The president is still considering whether or not he will move forward with this deal at this time."

The U.S. State Department said in a statement later Thursday that the United States would in fact honor the agreement "out of respect for close ties to our Australian ally and friend."

Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to call the Obama administrations refugee program a “dumb deal.” Trump's administration also said "extreme vetting" would be used to check refugee cases.

Australia refused to accept the refugees and instead pays for them to be housed on the nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The State Department classified details on refugees to be resettled in America via a secret deal made with Australia. The New York Times has called the deal a “one-time agreement.”

“This is a backroom deal, wheeling and dealing with another country's refugee problem,” Center for Immigration Studies fellow Don Barnett told FoxNews.com late last year. “I don’t believe for a moment it’s a one-time deal. That’s for public consumption.”

Secretary Jeh Johnson and Secretary of State John Kerry, key lawmakers Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. complained about the lack of candor in a letter written to the Department of Homeland Security.

“This situation is concerning for many reasons,” the letter stated, adding, “Your departments negotiated an international agreement regarding refugees without consulting or notifying Congress.”

"The United States has agreed to consider referrals from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) of refugees now residing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea," the State Department said in a statement late last year. "These refugees are of special interest to UNHCR and we are engaged on a humanitarian basis, as we are in other parts of the world."

Australia has been under fire for paying the surrounding island nations to house the refugees. The camps were reportedly created in an effort to curtail “people smuggling.”

Australia has long had a policy which prevents individuals seeking asylum from entering the country before proper vetting.

During a press conference in November of last year Turnbull said, “Nobody is taking any more refugees, but what the Americans are doing is assisting these individuals on Nauru and Manus by bringing them in within their existing quota.”

Starting in October, the Obama administration increased the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to 110,000 for the year.

Officials confirmed some of the refugees’ countries of origin to be Iran, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Sudan.

Trump suspended U.S. refugee admissions for 120 days and set a 90-day ban on U.S. entry for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen in an executive order last week.

Turnbull has resisted pressure this week to join other Western leaders in condemning Trump's temporary ban of immigrants from the seven Muslim-majority countries.

Some observers suspect Turnbull has held his tongue because he is grateful to Trump for agreeing to honor the refugee deal.

Fox News' Melissa Jacobs, Alyssa Madruga and The Associated Press contributed to this report.