Refugees in Memphis feel sting of Trump’s immigration policies

By Philipp Saul and John Bone

The faithful sit together in small groups in a large room. They have lowered their heads to pray for the welfare of refugees. Leaders of the World Relief Memphis organization and other ecclesiastical groups in Memphis called for an evening of prayer in support of refugees in Memphis. They want the people from all over the world to arrive safely, find a new home and integrate fast into the American way of life

In the past year, nearly 85,000 refugees have been admitted to the United States according to the Department of State. This year 110,000 refugees should be allowed to enter the United States; however, because of an executive order of President Donald Trump, only 50,000 refugees are now allowed to come.

Donald Trump has been in office nearly 100 days but during the election battle and in his first days, he has already caused quite a stir with speaking against many immigrants who he sees as a security risk.


With his comments on immigration policy, Trump provoked protests mainly in larger cities. And also in Memphis, the faithful at the evening of prayer do not agree with his orders. They do not want a divided but a united society. Ismael Kunda of the River Nile Church of Memphis stands before the audience in the First Baptist Church. He himself had to flee from Sudan because he had preached the Christian faith there.

“I am sorry for those who are still outside,” Kunda said of the Trump policy. “We want our people to come over here. Islamics never allow them to hear the message of Christ. I am sorry that they cannot come.”


At the age of six, Ceasar Lomo had to flee with his family before 1994 Sudanese Civil War. As bombs exploded in his home village, he and his family, on foot, set off for a refugee camp under the care of the United Nations in Uganda.

After two years, the family was relocated to a refugee camp in Kenya, where they remained almost five years. Because the situation in Sudan did not improve, Lomo and his family received a unique opportunity.

They applied to participate in one of the projects the US State Department, the United Nations and the International Office of Migration provide to bring refugees to the United States.

“Our name was chosen by the US government and after many examinations, interviews and medical tests, we were placed in Memphis in 2001,” Lomo said.

Less refugees than planned

Lomo is one of many refugees from all over the world who arrived in Memphis. In 2015, 198 refugees came to the city. In the following year, 287, according P.J. Moore, director of World Relief Memphis. This year, 325 refugees were scheduled to come to Memphis. Because of the executive order, however, only 130 to 150 refugees will be distributed to Memphis.

Graphic by John Bone and Philipp Saul.

When refugees enter the United States, they reach a new world. World Relief is one of the first contact points for refugees in Memphis. The evangelical organization is one of nine groups that work with the U.S. government together in the area of resettlement immigration legal services. World Relief staff collect the refugees on arrival at the airport and take them to a donated apartment where they can live for up to five years.

Many refugees have problems with language and cultural conditions in the beginning. Therefore World Relief provides language courses and also helps to secure jobs, because many jobs are only available through privat connections. World Relief is an evangelical organization, but also helps non-Christians.

“Our goal is to empower the local church to the most vulnerable,” Moore said. It does not matter whether they are Christians or not.”

Another problem for refugees is stereotyping.

Rondell Trevino from the Memphis Immigration Project said “many immigrants and refugees are easily categorized as a particular person because of the way they are”. In that case, he speaks up against Trumps banning policy. Even if he can sympathize with wanting security for the U.S., he highly disagrees with Trump trying to ban people from six nations.

“It does not resolve anything and does not focus on the real threat”, Trevino said. “Terrorist threats are not enough.”
Nevertheless, there are some people in Memphis who are afraid of refugees. They see the crowds on television, who are running to Europe and are afraid that they all come to the United States.

Speak up in churches and social networks

Thi Mitsamphanh, a minister from the First Baptist Church, said “they are afraid of terror”. But, he added, this fear is baseless. P.J. Moore from World Relief mimicked that statement. He sees a problem in false information and misunderstanding about the intention of refugees.

“Fear the unknown is a real thing”, Moore said. Because of those prejudices supported by the government, “refugees sometimes feel that they are not welcome here.”

For that reason, Trevino claimed to speak up for refugees and immigrants in person and in social networks.

“When we hear horrible rhetoric about them in an unbiblical way, we have to be up and stand for them because they are vulnerable and have no voice,” Trevino said.

This is exactly what Sally Smith wants to do. The elder Lady came to the Baptist church together with her husband Mark. She does not want to stereotype refugees as she thinks Trump and his supporters do.

Smith leads the prayers on her table:“We pray to be good citizen and to help them to be good citizen.”

Lomo is a good citizen. After five years of residency, immigrants can apply for the citizenship. It only takes five years of residency to apply, but if an applicant fails the immigration test then he or she has to wait a year to reapply. Lomo succeeded and is now well integrated into the American society.

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