Australia has passed its first test with the Trump Administration. The refugee resettlement deal announced by the Turnbull government and Obama administration after November's presidential election seemed at odds with the Trump administration’s controversial executive order on immigration and refugees. So President Trump’s assurance that the deal will proceed is a win for Australian diplomacy.
The White House could easily have ditched the deal, not least due to the risk of backlash from congressional Republicans. Brian Babin, a junior Texas congressman, said last month he was "confident President-elect Trump will do everything in his power to put an immediate stop" to the deal. His comments followed criticism by Chuck Grassley and Bob Goodlatte, influential Republicans who serve as the respective chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees. Overseas refugee admissions are “subject to the unfettered discretion of the president", so the deal’s congressional opponents were trying to force the president’s hand.
While these Republicans were unsuccessful, Australian lobbying was effective. The text of the Trump administration’s executive order states that the secretaries of state and homeland security “may jointly determine to admit individuals to the United States as refugees on a case-by-case basis… when admitting the person would enable the United States to conform its conduct to a preexisting international agreement”, a specific clause enabling the Australian deal to proceed.
However, the mechanics of the deal are unclear. The majority of the refugees on Nauru and Manus Island are from Iran and Iraq, two of the seven countries whose citizens were suspended from entering the United States for 90 days under the executive order. Moreover, officials from the Department of Homeland Security are in the early stages of ‘extreme vetting’ of refugees, which could take several months.
The first resettlements are therefore unlikely to occur soon. Expect plenty of media attention, and perhaps a bump or two, as the deal is implemented.