Issac James, now a student at Rollins College in Orlando, Fla., majoring in public policy speaks at the signing ceremony in Mayor Lee Harris' office. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

With people from Africa, Asia and other parts of the world gathered in his office on Friday, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris made clear Shelby County’s intent to continue resettling refugees.

Harris signed a refugee resettlement consent letter during a ceremonial signing event that included the director of World Relief Memphis, a refugee resettlement organization, and members of the refugee community.

In September, the Trump administration issued an executive order giving local and state communities 90 days to consent to resettle refugees.

Mayor Harris affixes his signature on the consent letter. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

“We are here to say that Shelby County will be honored to continue to welcome refugees,” Harris said. “The U.S. is an inspiration of hope around the world. When we have the ability to act, we have a moral duty to help those in need, those in dire circumstances.

“Refugees embark on a perilous journey to find safety, and assuredly, the U.S. has been ready to do its part to provide a safe haven. We shall continue to do our part to provide safety, and save the lives of children and families.”

The resettling of refugees in Memphis and Shelby County had formerly been facilitated by Catholic Charities. Today, World Relief Memphis administers provision and assistance for refugees making Shelby County their new home.

“Mayor Harris, thank you for hosting this ceremony. Seventy million have been forcibly displaced from their homes around the world,” said P.J. Moore, director of World Relief Memphis. “Thank you for giving written consent to Shelby County continuing to be a welcoming community.

“The United Nations Refugee Agency said there are over 70.8 million people who have been forced to flee their homes. One person becomes displaced every two seconds. That is enough to fill up the FedEx Forum two times every day. This year, .07 percent of the world’s refugees are expected arrive in the United States…the lowest number since the refugee act was passed in the 1980s.”

According to the World Relief Memphis, the Trump administration has all but halted the flow of refugees to America. This year, the state of Tennessee will receive about 350 displaced individuals. Of that number, Shelby County will receive 40.

Moore expressed hope that more refugees be allowed into the United States for resettlement. Harris said “our differences and our diversity make us strong.”

Several refugees who resettled in Shelby County told their stories.

John Liom

“I would like to thank God for this opportunity, and I would like to thank the mayor. My name is John Liom, and I am from the Sudan. I came as a refugee in 2003. I left my country when I was 12 years old, the place I called home. I left because of war and injustice…when I got to Memphis, Tennessee, I thank God for the people of Memphis who welcomed me and welcomed my family. When I got here, I did not know any English. So, I had to learn and go to public school…I want to thank everyone who invested in me. I had a dream to become an officer. My dream came true when I joined the Memphis Police Department in 2016.”

Cute Lee

“Good morning, my name is Cute Lee…my parents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. As they met and started their lives together, they chose Memphis as their home, the place to plant their dreams, to raise their children, to invest, to pour their energy into, and to give back all that they had received. That was over 30 years ago. My father has served as a pastor, and my mother started a local business in a community who accepts has as one of their own…As a child of refugees, I’ve embraced my narrative, where my faith in Jesus Christ has guided me every step. I serve Memphis and the community by pasturing First International Baptist Church where we understand that we are all made better because of our differences.”

Isaac James

“Wow, this is very remarkable…if you listen to our stories that are shared here, all of us are coming from a place where we wouldn’t have the privilege to do this. We wouldn’t have been given a voice where we come from. So I would like to thank Mayor Lee Harris and Shelby County for seeing us for who we are, for allowing us to share our voice, for Memphis allowing us to continue to be part of this community. My name is Isaac James, and I was born in a refugee camp. From the onset I was a refugee. I didn’t have a home. I was looking for security. I was looking for peace. I was looking for hope.

“My family received that hope in 2001. We were told we would be resettled in the U.S. and that Shelby County would be our new home…Tennessee has the motto of being the Volunteer State. Really, truly, what does it mean, to be a volunteer? I believe it means to look at your neighbor, to look at those who are not the same as you and say, ‘You are welcome. This is your home. Although you might not look like me, or believe as me, I still see the human value that was granted to you. I will continue to defend you, and allow you the voice and space. But also, to share your experiences and look toward your future, what you hope to gain.’

“Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, I again want to say thank you for continuing to allow refugees in… I have family back home who are still refugees…I can share with them hope, that your kids can get an education here. I learned my alphabets. I learned to read and write…Without this community, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”