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In Kentucky, A Congolese Refugee Remains Hopeful Despite Immigration Ban

Ryland Barton

Kentuckians awaiting to reunite with loved ones fleeing war torn countries are among those affected by the immigration bans enacted by President Donald Trump over the weekend.

The state’s refugee community is nervous about the future.

Lodrige Mutabazi is a 32-year-old Congolese refugee and works at the Amazon shipping center in Lexington. He moved here a little over a year ago.

“I like this city of ours,” he says. “It’s a small city, but it’s 100 percent clean. And even the community where I stay, they say hi to me, I can talk to them anytime in case of advice or anything else. Actually it’s a good community to me.”

Mutabazi used to be a large-animal veterinarian in the Democratic Republic of Congo but fled the ongoing Civil War in the country in 2008. He ended up in a refugee camp in neighboring Uganda where he taught elementary school and worked as a translator, eventually marrying a woman from his hometown.

His wife and child were supposed to emigrate to the U.S. in the next few months, but he says it’s not clear anymore when or if they’ll be able to come.

“Understand, for her she was very happy saying that maybe within four to five months she’ll be able to come,” says Mutaba. “But after I have given to her that news, she was very disappointed. I was just trying to say that do not lose hope that anything may happen. Maybe the president may change his decision, we never know what may be next.”

Mutabazi’s son was born a week after he immigrated to the United States, he hasn’t seen him in person.

“I don’t know how my boy looks like, except what they just send me like the pictures,” he says.”

Trump issued the executive order Friday evening halting the resettlement of refugees from all countries for 120 days. He also indefinitely banned refugees from Syria and issued a 90-day ban on the entry of citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Mary Cobb, Lexington director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, said her staff has been scrambling to get in touch with those affected by the actions in the state.

“And mostly, likely the main effect on people already here is that the families who may be joining you are going to be delayed and we don’t know when or if or what the exceptions will be or how long the delays will be,” says Cobb. “In terms of refugees overseas, whether or not they have family here, I don’t know who’s contacting them if anyone.”

Trump’s move had immediate effects, blocking entry for those already traveling to the U.S. It also drew immediate backlash, with thousands of protesters picketing outside of U.S. airports across the country.

Cobb said that the president shouldn’t have issued a total block on refugees and that the vetting process is very thorough already. But she didn’t rule out adding steps.

“People don’t just get a ticket and show up and say ‘I’m a refugee, let me in,'” says Cobb. “They’ve been screened for 18-24 months on average, many for longer. Every security database, intelligence database is pinged multiple times.”

Kentucky has received 11,248 refugees since October 2010 according to the Kentucky Office for Refugees. Forty-five percent of those refugees were children with an average age of 8-years-old.

Mutabazi says he hopes Congress steps in and asks the president to scale back the immigration orders.

“My prayer is the president to change his decision or the president to have a new plan so that he can allow our people to come here,” he says.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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