KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A march took place on Thursday through downtown Knoxville with organizers saying the hope is for Tennessee to become a safe haven for immigrants and refugees.
This march happening a day after Governor Bill Lee’s announcement that he’s allowing initial refugee resettlement in the state.
Governor Lee’s move is in response to President Trump’s executive order giving states and local governments greater involvement in the process of determining the placement of refugees within their jurisdiction.
“That work and my belief that we do have a Biblical mandate to provide refuge to the oppressed, all of those things played into my decision,” said Governor Lee.
Governor Lee acknowledged the executive order could be overturned by future presidents and that his consent to allowing refugees will be evaluated again in a year.
Organizers of the 5th annual ‘Welcome March’ say they hold the event this time of year because it’s rooted in the Christmas story, saying Jesus, Mary and Joseph were strangers relying on the kindness of others.
There were a number of signs held tightly by those marching on Thursday. Beverly Duckett’s sign read “We are a nation of immigrants.”
“That’s just, I think that’s very important that one just rings a bell,” she said.
A large group gathered outside of First Baptist Church in downtown Knoxville.
“Immigrants and refugees still face so many barriers in our community and we feel like it’s so important for people to just stand up and say these people are welcome in our community,” said Lissa McLeod with Riverside Community Catholic Worker.
There were moments of silent reflection and prayer before the march began.
“I’m very compassionate to their needs and concerns and absolutely have no problem standing in solidarity for the refugees in understand that they need a safe place to go to, just like we do in America. We all need the same resources, the same constant ideals which are safety, shelter and adequate resources of survivability,” said Constance Every.
Luis Urrea with Centro Hispano de East Tennessee sharing that his family emigrated from Mexico and as he marched, “I’m thinking of my parents. I’m thinking of my extended family, a lot of who are undocumented and just thinking about people in this area who just want to be recognized as people.”
Those marching crossed streets and said this ‘Welcome March’ was a step in the right direction with Governor Lee’s decision to allow refugee resettlement.
“This has been an ongoing fight and I feel like today’s march is a march of actual victory. We successfully for years have been protesting, advocating and voicing our concerns about this particular matter,” said Every.
“We’re just overjoyed. We just want to tell him thank you,” added Urrea.
As many ended this pilgrimage of sorts in Market Square, they wrote ‘Thank you’ on postcards that will be sent to Governor Lee.
“The take home message at the end of the day is Tennessee, that volunteer spirit, that is what it is, a welcoming community for any and all,” said Urrea.
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