Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Grassley Renews Call for Declassification of Covert Australia Refugee Deal

Feb 02, 2017
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today called on the Trump administration to make public the details of a secret agreement between the Obama administration and Australia to transfer to the United States foreign nationals who attempted to enter Australia as refugees.  These foreign nationals have instead been held by the Australian government at Pacific Island detention facilities.  Grassley first raised concerns about the clandestine pact in November, and called on the Obama administration to release the classified details in December, after it became clear that there was no apparent reason for the information to be classified.  Responses from the previous administration’s State Department and Department of Homeland Security failed to allow for public scrutiny of the plan, which was made without consultation with Congress.
 
In a letter today to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Grassley called on the new administration to declassify the agreement, which reportedly allows into the United States roughly 1,300 refugees originating from various countries, including Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.
 
“As I said before, 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.  American taxpayers not only foot the bill for the majority of the refugee resettlement in the United States, but they bear any consequences regarding the security implications of those admitted to our country,” Grassley said in the letter.
 
Full text of the letter follows:
 
February 2, 2017
 
The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
 
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
             
            On November 22, 2016, and again on December 6, 2016, I wrote to then Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Secretary of State John Kerry about an alleged agreement signed between the U.S. and Australia authorizing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to refer roughly 1,300 refugees for resettlement to the United States.[1][2] 
 
Under the agreement, signed by the Obama Administration without consulting Congress, the United States reportedly agreed to admit these refugees, who Australia refused to admit and who are currently being held in detention facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. My staff was informed by your Department in a briefing that the refugees were from various countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan.
 
After a classified briefing about the agreement that was provided to Senate and House Judiciary Committee staff in December of 2016, it became apparent that there was no reason for the agreement to be classified, and I and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte subsequently called for its declassification.  The Department of Homeland Security defers to the Department of State on declassification of the agreement and, for its part, the State Department has yet to commit to declassification.  Therefore, I renew my request with your Department to declassify this agreement so that the American people can read it.  As I said before, 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.  American taxpayers not only foot the bill for the majority of the refugee resettlement in the United States, but they bear any consequences regarding the security implications of those admitted to our country.
 
Therefore, I urge you to declassify this agreement.  If your decision is not to seek declassification, please include your justification for such a decision in your response.   
 
 
                                                            Sincerely,

 
 
                                                            Charles E. Grassley
                                                            Chairman
                                                            Senate Committee on the Judiciary
 

[1] White House blasts ‘horrible’ Obama-era Refugee Deal with Australia – But May Honor It;  Fox News, Feb. 2, 2017, available at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/02/02/white-house-blasts-horrible-obama-era-refugee-deal-with-australia-but-may-honor-it.html
[2] Letter from Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, U.S. Senate Comm. on the Judiciary, and Bob Goodlatte, Chairman, House Comm. on the Judiciary, to John Kerry, Secretary, U.S. State Department (Nov. 22, 2016); Letter from Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, U.S. Senate Comm. on the Judiciary, and Bob Goodlatte, Chairman, House Comm. on the Judiciary, to John Kerry, Secretary, U.S. State Department (Dec. 6, 2016).
 
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