Local refugees and agencies fear President Trump's executive ord - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local refugees and agencies fear President Trump's executive order

Posted: Updated:
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

From families to businesses, the impact of the president's executive order is rippling across the country, including some people in Chattanooga. 

Born and raised in Iraq, Wahab Ahlabid spent 40 years of his life working towards a better future he knew the U.S. could provide. He said tension grew during the seven years he served as an engineer and translator for the United States Army during the Iraq war, which eventually granted him a way out. 

"Leaving the country wasn't a choice. I wasn't planning to come to America," Ahlabid said. "You're considered a traitor because you are working with the enemies, and that made it really difficult to live over there you know, especially when the Americans they left Iraq."

Almost five years later, Ahlabid's wife, two sons, daughter and granddaughter are proud to call "the land of the free," home. 

But Ahlabid said he's now concerned after learning about President Donald Trump's executive order that temporarily bans entry into the U.S. by residents of seven Muslim-majority countries. 

"It's changing our community here as an Iraqi. We're already a very small community here with just the numbers of families. You can count them in your hand."

Out of the four Iraqi families in Ahlabid's neighborhood, he said three of them have family members who may not be able to return from Iraq, including his own.

"For me it's my daughter who's over there. She will lose her green card if she can't come [back]."

Ahlabid's 24 year-old daughter recently went to Iraq to visit her her husband a couple of months ago.

She's four months pregnant with her second child, and Ahlabid worries it will be even more difficult for them to return home.

"She's already going to lose the green card and how are we going to do the new baby? How can she come back again? So that really scares me. I don't know what I'm going to do with that one."

He said all he can do is wait and pray for a solution, while uncertainty looms over his family and others around the world. 

"I don't want someone to come and say oh you're different. I really do care about this. This is my home now. This is you know our fight for this country. So I don't want to be different," said Ahlabid. "I came here to be a part of this community."

Marina Peshterianu, the Associate Director at Bridge Refugee Services, Inc., shares Ahlabid's concern. 

"With 65 million displaced people, 20 million of them refugees; less than one percent of them gets this winning lottery ticket to America," said Peshterianu. 

"I hope that we will accomplish that our voice as a community will be heard. That we want these people here, we're not fearful of them, we want to support them."

Bridge Refugee Services, Inc. is a federal agency that caters to refugees worldwide. With help from local churches, universities and employers, the agency helps its clients reach their goal of a better life in America. 

Bridge settles up to 130 refugees per year in Chattanooga. 

"In the beginning we see these families almost everyday. We become close, they share their stories, they become part of our lives," said Peshterianu. 

Peshterianu said despite the hundreds of success stories, the journey to the U.S. is not easy. 

"You have to go through the process. It's minimal 18 to 24 months just to go through all the security clearances, all documentations, all interviews, medical screening and then you wait for your ticket." 

Twenty refugees from three countries will have to wait at least four months to join their families in Chattanooga. Peshterianu said many of them already had apartments and other necessities arranged.

"We were preparing for their arrivals except for one family all of them has family in Chattanooga, and all of them waited for years for this to happen."

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

The agency will join other local activists for a "We all Belong Vigil" at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Coolidge Park. 

Peshterianu said the event is a peaceful, family-oriented protest to Trump's executive order. 

Powered by Frankly