Australia has long been a destination for illegal immigration (aborigines might date the problem back even farther) because of its stability, freedom, and wealth. Over the past few decades, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranian, and Indochinese often contracted with unscrupulous traffickers to be smuggled in horrendous conditions and unsafe vessels to the shores of Australia, where they would immediately claim asylum. Many drowned en route.
As illegal immigration increased, a bipartisan array of Australian politicians banded together and, in 1992, passed a Migration Amendment Act. It called for the mandatory detention of all illegal immigrants (as well as those who arrived illegally and overstayed their visas). Because the costs of detention can be high, the Act also authorized the Australian government to assign “detention debts” to those processed to reimburse the cost of their detention. When possible, the Australian government issues “bridging visas” to those in Australia illegally but who are not considered flight risks. This legalizes their stay until their status is resolved or they are ordered to depart.
The Australian government reserved special treatment for those who sought actively to bypass border controls, such as those who arrived by boat. Much more detailed information can be found here.
As illegal immigration increased after 2001, the Howard government initiated a policy of off-shore processing, the so-called “Pacific Solution.” First, the Australian government changed the law so that arrival in territories of Australia like Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands no longer translated into a right to migrate onward to Australia proper. Those who arrived in these islands, or who were intercepted at sea, were instead transferred to other facilities outside Australia, such as in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government provided substantial aid to both countries in order to play host to the migrants. While human-rights groups have criticized the detention camp in Nauru, its substandard physical condition should not mean condemnation of off-shore processing and placement. Rather, if the camp is problematic, the solution is simply to improve the camp. As word spreads to illegal migrants that they cannot sponsor the visas of family members under a reunion policy, nor will they even make it to Australia proper, then the incentive to risk their lives at sea decreases. The Australians even maintain an online status sheet which shows at regular intervals the numbers of migrants intercepted at sea and transferred to detention facilities outside Australia.
President Obama does not want a fence, and is unwilling to enforce the border. Immigration is fuel to American society, but illegal immigration makes a mockery of the process and undercuts integration into society. The result of the current lack of enforcement is a humanitarian tragedy with the worst in society preying on migrant children, a public health nightmare, and a breakdown of law and order.
Perhaps until Congress can find a solution to the problem of illegal aliens or undocumented migrants or whatever the politically correct phrase du jour is, it might be worthwhile to look toward our allies Down Under to find an interim model that actually works. And, I hear Guam is nice this time of year and so is Wake Island, and perhaps regional states like Haiti would take illegal immigrants in exchange for greater foreign assistance.