"Extreme Vetting": U.S. Refugee Process & the Trump Ban

Students learn about and discuss the U.S.'s existing policy for vetting refugees and what happened to refugees after President Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending the U.S. refugee program.  


To the Teacher: 

In this activity, students learn about and discuss the U.S.'s policies for vetting refugees and what happened to refugees after President Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending the U.S. refugee program.
The activity incorporates one or two clips from the radio program This American Life. Make sure that you can access the clips, and review them, here:

The activity also uses this printout, which describes the refugee vetting process as it stood before Trump’s order, from the New York Times). Make enough copies of the handout for everyone in the class. 

Gathering: Refugee web

Write on the the word "refugee" in the middle of the board or chart paper. Ask students to share free associations with the word "refugee" and chart their responses. Continue for a few minutes while interest remains high. When you have a good number of words that students associate with refugees, draw lines from "refugee" to the words, creating a web.

  • Ask students if they want to make any comments or observations about the web.
  • Point out similarities with the word refuge.?
  • What does the word refuge mean and what is its connection to the word refugee?
  • In what context have they heard the word refugee used before?

 Ask students to come up with a definition of the word refugee. 

From Merriam-Webster Online
Main Entry: refuge
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin refugium, from refugere to escape, from re- + fugere to flee
1 : shelter or protection from danger or distress
2 : a place that provides shelter or protection
3 : something to which one has recourse in difficulty
Main Entry: refugee
Etymology: French réfugié, past participle of (se) réfugier to take refuge, from Middle French refugier, from Latin refugium
: one that flees ; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, "refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk."


Check agenda and objectives

Explain that in today’s lesson we’ll learn more about refugees wanting to come to the U.S., the process they have to go through to come to the U.S., and the obstacles they face.   


Extreme Vetting

On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that barred people for seven Muslim majority countries - Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia - from entering the United States for 90 days. The order also suspended the U.S.’s entire refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked Syrian refugees from entering the country.

 When Trump signed the order, he said:
"We're going to have a very, very strict ban, and we're going to have extreme vetting, which we should have had in this country for many years." 

  • What do you think President Trump means by "extreme vetting"?
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this?
  • What does the statement assume about vetting before President Trump came into office?
  • What do you know about the vetting of refugees who were granted papers to enter the U.S. before President Trump came into office?

Steps in the Vetting Process

Provide students with this pdf handout. Explain that this was the vetting process that was already in place when President Trump signed the order barring refugees (and others) from entering the U.S..

Invite students to read the steps in the refugee vetting process on the handout, either as a go round or by having different volunteers read the different steps.
After they have read the steps, ask students:

  • What you think about this process? 

Explain that all refugees held at U.S. airports in the days following President Trump’s executive order barring refugees from entry had already been vetted in this way. They had all gone through each of these steps over the course of several years. 
Remind students that these are people who have had to flee their homes because of violence and/or persecution.  Many had been on the move for years, their families often scattered across the globe, if not killed.  They’re likely to have lived in a refugee camp before being resettled.  (For more about life in a refugee camp, please see our lesson on this here: http://www.morningsidecenter.org/teachable-moment/lessons/picturing-syrian-refugee-crisis.)
Ask students:

  • How do you think refugees feel going through this process?
  • How do you think refugees feel when they’re finally granted U.S. travel papers?
  • How do you think refugees felt when they were stopped at the airport, barred from entering the country?
  • How about the ones who were still at the refugee camps abroad when they heard about Trump’s executive order? These refugees might have been in the last steps of the vetting process, having already received their cultural orientation class or having been matched with an American resettlement agency perhaps.  How might they have felt?

This American Life: It’s Working Out Very Nicely

Explain to students that next you’ll be listening to some radio clips from the radio program This American Life. The show is a production of Chicago Public Media and is broadcast around the country on National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates.
The episode we’ll hear clips from is called "It’s Working Out Very Nicely."  The episode is about President Trump’s executive order and how it affected refugees in the hours and days that followed.
Act 1:  Basket of Deportables 
Play this 10-minute audio clip:
In the clip, we heard different people respond to the effects of Trump’s travel ban, and what happened to immigrants and refugees who were stranded at New York’s JFK airport, barred from entering the country after the order was signed into law.
After listening to the clip, ask students some or all of the following questions:

  • Listening to Haider, the refugee in this clip, how do you think he felt throughout this whole ordeal at the airport?
  • Why did Haider flee Iraq?  How long did it take him to come to the U.S.?  Why did Haider come to the U.S.?
  • How was Donia, his wife, feeling as she waited for him in Houston?
  • What does Haider say about his interactions with the customs officials? 
  • What did you learn about how the executive order was rolled out?   

If time allows, play the prologue of the same This American Life Episode (13  minutes): https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/609/its-working-out-very-nicely?act=0#play

This audio clip focuses on refugees in Kenya who were in the final phases of the refugee application process after having lived in the world's largest refugee camp for several decades. They had gone through all the steps of the refugee vetting process, which took many years. They said goodbye to their lives in the camp and sold all their possessions. Their papers were already approved and they were ready to start their new lives in the U.S. Then President Trump signed his executive order.
After listening to the clip, ask students some or all of the following questions: 

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this clip?
  • What affected you the most about this clip?
  • What is the bitter pill, the guy in the front of the room speaks of?
  • What were the responses of the various refugees at the Kenya transit center when they hear they have to go back to the camp?

The piece ends with a description of refugees in their rooms with their blankets over their heads, some refusing to eat, some refusing to take their medication. There is concern that people might kill themselves as a result of the executive order.  Ask students:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about President Trump’s extreme vetting now? 


As you think about President Trump’s executive order and what you learned today, what are your thoughts and feelings about the radio producers' decision to title the episode "It's Working Out Very Nicely"?