At Kentucky Refugee Ministries in Lexington Monday morning, the normal swirl of foreign languages was laced with urgency, as clients from all over the world wondered how President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration would affect them and their families.
“It’s really painful,” explained Mary Cobb, director of the Lexington office. “The biggest impact is on the people who are waiting for their families to reunify.”
The order, issued Friday afternoon, has stopped all refugee admissions for the next four months, and indefinitely barred all refugees from Syria. The order also included a 90-day ban on migrants and U.S. legal residents from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Nearly everyone at the KRM office had questions Monday morning, especially those who have already filled out petitions to bring family members to the United States.
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It’s not clear how the order will affect those people with green cards, many of whom were stopped at airports over the weekend.
“There’s tension and nerves and uncertainty,” Cobb said.
Alain Amuri, a native of the Congo, lived in a refugee camp in Zambia for five years before he got to Lexington. He now works at Amazon and helps interpret for other Congolese refugees. His family has already joined him in the U.S., but he has friends still waiting in the same camp in Zambia whose waits will go on.
“I’m feeling for those people right now. You’re told you can travel … and then you can’t — it’s really heartbreaking,” he said.
There also are questions at universities across the state, where officials took stock of their international students and scholars, while other organizations planned protests and informational meetings.
At the University of Kentucky, there are 120 students and scholars from the seven affected countries, but “as far as we know they’re all here,” said spokesman Jay Blanton.
UK President Eli Capilouto sent out a campus wide email on Monday afternoon, saying UK is closely monitoring a “fluid” situation.
He said they were cautioning those from affected countries against traveling abroad, and asking administrators to make sure everyone affected has access to the appropriate resources. Capilouto said UK will cooperate with federal officials in accordance with the law, but “we will continue our unyielding posture of abiding by strong federal constitutional and statutory privacy rights” which prohibit handing over student, faculty or staff records.
“We are an inclusive community where everyone — regardless of religion, identity, origin, or perspective — is welcome and should feel a sense of safety and belonging,” Capilouto wrote. “We must not let this moment drive us apart from one another. We should instead use this opportunity to become an even closer and mutually supportive community of students, faculty, and staff from every part of the globe.”
Hadeel Abdallah, president of UK’s Muslim Student Association, said her group met with several other campus organizations Monday morning to discuss the ban.
“We want to ensure that people feel safe on campus,” said Abdallah, a sophomore from Lexington.
The association is organizing a meeting where faculty and experts can discuss the situation with students and community members, probably on Wednesday, Abdallah said.
At Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, a city with a sizable immigrant population, officials identified 22 students and at least two faculty members from the seven countries. WKU officials have advised them not to travel outside of the U.S. while the ban is in place.
“Our international students are important members of the university family,” said WKU President Gary A. Ransdell. “We are working to fully understand all the variables in play, but it is important that our international students feel safe and know that they are welcome here. We will work to ensure that each of them stays on track to graduate.”
The University of Louisville said Monday that it has 50 faculty or staff and 45 students from the seven countries.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer scheduled a “Rally for American Values” at the Muhammad Ali Center at 6 p.m. Monday with civic and religious leaders. On Twitter, Fischer said the rally “will show support for our city and nation, founded and strengthened by immigrants.”
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear said helping refugees is “a Christian duty” and that “our country ought to be able to protect its citizens and also to help those families.” Beshear, though, said he will not join a group of about 16 state attorneys general who are debating group legal action.
“When you join in other large groups that make statements, you lose your own particular voice,” Beshear said.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged caution over the extreme vetting that Trump has called for, but did not reject the ban.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray also issued a statement over the weekend, saying the “president’s actions have created unnecessary anxiety and unrest. His poorly developed plan divides the American people.”
On Tuesday night in Lexington, the Episcopal Migration Ministries will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral. “Stand to #SupportRefugees” is being described as a “holy conversation to learn more about the ban and how to support refugees and the groups that support them.”
At KRM, which resettles about 350 people each year, Cobb said she has been showing her clients videos of spontaneous protests that sprung up at international airports around the country over the weekend. The agency has been getting numerous calls from people who want to donate and volunteer, she said.
“That’s a nice pick me up,” Cobb said. “Lexington has always been so supportive. People by and large feel it’s the right thing to do in this city, and KRM will continue to rely on them.”
Reporter Jack Brammer contributed to this story.