Taking Australia's Failed Asylum Seekers

Where's the Art of the Deal?

By Dan Cadman on June 25, 2017

My colleague Nayla Rush has written a series of items on President Trump's decision to accept from Australia migrants who have been detained in offshore detention centers rather than allowing them to enter that nation. (See here, here, and here).

This was a rather bizarre deal struck by former President Barack Obama for reasons known only to himself. But why President Trump decided to stand by the deal is also unclear. There's no gain in it for the United States other than, perhaps, remaining true to an ally occupying a strategic position in an area where the People's Republic of China has become threatening and hegemonistic.

But there is no gratitude on the part of Australian premier Malcolm Turnbull who, as Rush notes, was caught in a "hot mic" moment making fun of Trump, even though by sticking with the deal Trump took Turnbull off the hot seat of a highly charged domestic issue and quite possibly saved his political bacon. Yet as I write this, it was announced that Australia is withdrawing air operations in Syria rather than get caught in a strategic squeeze between the United States and Russia after an American fighter downed a Syrian aircraft bombing U.S.-supported rebels fighting the Assad regime. (Given China's increasing militarism in his geopolitical area of the globe, Turnbull had better hope the United States is a more steadfast ally than he is proving to be.)

But back to the matter of accepting these migrants, many of whom have expressed disdain for the United States, as documented by Rush: The Australian government, in an attempt to put the turmoil over its establishment of offshore migrant detention centers behind it, has negotiated a class action lawsuit settlement in which it will pay the equivalent of US$53 million to the 1,905 detainees on Manus Island, site of one of the two centers.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the attorneys and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that filed and pursued this lawsuit take half to cover the costs of their representation and to build up their war chests for the next barrage of migration-related lawsuits, which are almost sure to happen. That leaves $26.5 million, or $13,910 plus change in the pockets of each and every one of those migrants. Since some are related — husbands and wives, for instance — the accumulated amounts might in fact be more. And if I'm mistaken, and the lawyers and NGOs aren't looking for a piece of the action, then the amount received by the migrants would double to nearly $28,000 each.

And yet, part and parcel of their acceptance into the United States is that they will be granted resettlement stipends at U.S. taxpayer expense, not to mention tangible support via a host of other federal, state, and local programs. It hardly seems right, does it? How many U.S. families whose incomes fall under federal poverty guidelines would like to have that nearly $14,000 (or $28,000) to spend on necessities?

The more I think about it, the more lopsided this arrangement becomes, especially given the ingratitude of both the Australian government and the migrants to whom we are offering shelter and resettlement. The art of the deal? I'm not seeing it here.