Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/29/17. Rev. Marvin Morgan speaks to congregants of the Pilgrim Congregational Church before taking to 3rd Street to march two-miles picketing President Trump’s executive order on immigration barring some and suspending others from entering the United States.

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Executive order stalls reunion for Chattanooga refugee families

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Tennessee's two U.S. senators took issue Sunday with elements of President Donald Trump's immigration order, calling it confusing, and one said "it comes close to one which is inconsistent with our American character."

Republican Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander spoke Sunday as protesters marched in Chattanooga and hundreds demonstrated outside Corker's Nashville office.

Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that "we all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders."

Trump issued the sweeping executive travel ban last week limiting entry to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim nations. According to multiple news accounts, some Muslims who had legal visas or green cards were detained at airports in some cities.

One was reportedly an Iraqi man who had assisted American troops during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

A number of federal judges have placed stays on the order pending further court action.

"The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions," said Corker, adding, "it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated."

Alexander said in his own statement that "this vetting proposal itself needed more vetting."

"More scrutiny of those traveling from war-torn countries to the United States is wise," Alexander said. "But this broad and confusing order seems to ban legal, permanent residents with green cards, and might turn away Iraqis, for example, who were translators and helped save lives of Americans troops and who could be killed if they stay in Iraq."

Alexander said that "while not explicitly a religious test, it comes close to one which is inconsistent with our American character."

Trump issued a statement Sunday night saying the country will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, "but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border."

"To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting," the statement said. "This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days."

Worshipers from Pilgrim Congregational Church marched down Third Street in Chattanooga on Sunday in protest and local activists were calling for a vigil Wednesday, saying Trump's action holds ramifications for the local refugee community.

Twenty refugees from three countries will have to wait at least four months to join their families in Chattanooga while the Trump administration reviews the immigration screening process, according to Marina Peshterianu, associate director for Bridge Refugee Services in Chattanooga.

The 20 are from seven families, each of which already has other relatives living in the area, she said.

Peshterianu, who has worked in her role for 17 years, said Bridge settles 100-120 refugees per year in Chattanooga. That's all on hold now during the 120-day review accompanying the 90-day travel restriction.

Many incoming refugees already had apartments and other necessities arranged following a years-long resettlement process.

"We were ready to welcome them in the airport," Peshterianu said. "It's unbelievable. I don't think anybody thought through what and how it will impact actual people's lives."

Bridge receives funding based on arrivals of refugees, she said, meaning the agency will rely on community support to provide services to those in the program until new refugees, and the organization's funding, resume.

Peshterianu met with local activists Sara Scott and Candy Janish on Sunday afternoon to plan the "We All Belong Vigil" for Wednesday night at Coolidge Park.

The 6:30 p.m. event is being promoted as a peaceful, family-friendly protest to Trump's action and will accompany similar vigils across the state.

"I think we were pretty well outraged by the action that was taken," Scott said.

That vigil will follow Sunday's march by the Pilgrim congregation that included parishioners holding signs with messages like, "American Values Include Immigrants."

"It is paramount that the United States' refugee admissions program stay true to its mandate to resettle the most vulnerable," the church's interim minister, Marvin Morgan, said during the morning service. "Vulnerable individuals from a host of religions, ethnicities and backgrounds have and should continue to be resettled in the United States."

His words came from a letter signed by more than 2,000 clergy and church leaders from around the country and world.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at or 423-757-6249.