Of the 20 million refugees worldwide, only 1% (200,000) are resettled. Many are staying put in camps, hoping things stabilize in their home countries.
But for those who want to seek safety in another country, the first stop on the path is to register with the UNHCR, which fills out paperwork, handles preliminary questioning, and scans the refugees' eyes to enter into a database. Then the UNHCR, a country's embassy, or a humanitarian group might refer the refugees to a specific country willing to take them in.
For those refugees who are assigned to the US, the UNHCR passes their stories and information to the US government, triggering a multiagency effort that involved the departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Defense, as well as the FBI and other parts of the US Intelligence Community, many testing their biographic and biometric information against multiple databases repeatedly throughout the process.
And amid all the screening come those interviews — many, many interviews that can last three or four hours each and consist of detailed and repeated questions, according to Tammy Lin, a San Diego-based immigration lawyer who worked at a refugee-resettlement agency for nine years.
The State Department says the whole process should take between 18 and 24 months. But Lin said that estimate is "laughable." It took four to eight years for most of the refugees she's met.
Lin said she can only assume people like Trump are ignorant of the process when they call for "extreme vetting" and tighter security measures due to the threat posed by refugees.
"They're the most heavily vetted immigrants that end up coming to the US," Lin said. "I feel like it's scapegoating to put this on them."
Bryan Scott Hicks, an Ohio-based immigration lawyer who works with resettled refugee families, said he has seen cases where refugees were denied resettlement simply because they may have once offered food to someone considered a terrorist. Refugee officers consider that providing "material support" to terrorism and immediately deny them entry.
Hicks said many resettled Syrian families have told him that the officers in charge of vetting them would interview each family member separately — including young children — and ask incredibly detailed questions, and then bring each of them back for a second, third, or fourth round to try to catch discrepancies in their stories.
"The thing that people don't realize is how cautious they are," Hicks told Business Insider. "The inclination is not to say yes. The default is no. So if you have an officer who catches the remotest whiff of a problem, the answer is no."
"It’s a long process, it’s a hard process, it’s an emotional process, and it does take a long time," Robin Dunn Marcos, the senior director of processing and resettlement at the International Rescue Committee, told Business Insider. "It’s a roller coaster under the best of conditions."
the odds of being killed by a refugee committing a terrorist act on US soil is one in 3.6 billion per year. You have a better chance of getting whacked trying to take a left hand turn out of DD on to 139. Talk about terror...The notion that refugees will commit terrorist attacks on American soil appears to be a similarly unfounded fear. A recent Cato Institute study found that the odds of being killed by a refugee committing a terrorist act on US soil is one in 3.6 billion per year. It's far more likely for terrorists to find another way to enter the country due to the rigorous vetting process for refugees, Hicks said.
"It's a rigorous system, it's working, and if you're going to demand 100% certainty, that's impossible," Hicks said. "I don't know a government program that works better than that."