Welcoming Refugees in Tennessee

Jan 11, 2020

For many years, Second Presbyterian Church has had an active ministry welcoming newly arrived refugees to our community. As a church fulfilling our biblical mandate to welcome the sojourner in love, we are committed to supporting local organizations that work with refugee resettlement in Memphis. Our members have had the privilege of developing deep relationships with refugees through Refugee Empowerment Program, Multinational Memphis, and World Relief.


Under the terms of a recent executive order, the Federal Government would soon halt resettlement of refugees except to locations where both a governor and county executive consent to the continuation of the program. I am grateful that Tennessee Governor Lee and Shelby County Mayor Harris recently affirmed that Tennessee would remain open to refugees.


In consenting to this decision, these leaders are affirming a commitment to family unity. Ninety percent of refugees resettled to Memphis in recent years because they have relatives here who can help receive them. For example, a Congolese man named Gaspard Nkeramihigo has been waiting for years for his elderly mother, stuck in a refugee camp in Rwanda, to be allowed to join him. When she is finally approved, she will be resettled to Memphis, thanks to Lee and Harris’ consent. Absent that consent, she would be required to choose between residing with her son in Memphis and accessing vital integration support in another state.


Opposition to this decision seems to be based in confusion about who refugees are. Refugees come to the U.S. lawfully at the invitation of the U.S. State Department. They undergo the most thorough vetting process our government has for any category of visitor or immigrant who enters the U.S. While they do receive some assistance from the federal government when they first arrive, they are required to repay their plane tickets and, in time, their tax contributions more than re-pay the government for other expenditures on their behalf. 


Let us celebrate the political courage of this decision to welcome families to Tennessee. These refugees—who are finding work, learning a new language and rebuilding their lives in a new culture after escaping persecution—are the real models of courage. I’m grateful Tennesseans will continue to have the opportunity to welcome and learn from them.


Pastor George