A family reunification in Greensboro

With help from Elon Law's Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, Jesse Kizungu hugged his wife, Viviane, for the first time in three years after she arrived this week at Piedmont Triad International Airport from a refugee camp in Malawi.

Elon Law students involved with the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic welcomed Viviane Kizungu (second from right) to the United States on April 30 at Piedmont Triad International Airport.
Viviane Kizungu’s flight touched down in Greensboro so far ahead of schedule that her husband had yet to arrive at Piedmont Triad International Airport to welcome her to the United States.

But when Jesse Kizungu saw his wife near the baggage claim, he broke into a smile, and they embraced for nearly a minute as they exchanged kisses for the first time in nearly three years.

The couple had a cheering section, too: Several Elon Law students and the interim director of the law school’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic. The family reunification on April 30 was the first in more than a year for Elon Law’s immigration clinic and was the culmination of legal advocacy that started shortly after Jesse was resettled as a refugee in the United States in 2016.

Jesse and Viviane Kizungu embrace on April 30, 2019, for the first time in nearly three years. Elon Law's Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic assisted with Viviane's case.
Jesse Kizungu is completing work toward a business degree online through the University of Maryland University College with hopes of establishing a church in Greensboro. Viviane Kizungu intends to pursue a college degree as the couple settle into their lives together in the United States.
“Thank you for all the support you have provided in this process,” Vivane said the next day, as Jesse translated her French language when the couple visited the clinic. “Morally. Psychologically. Physically.”

The Kizungus met in Malawi in a refugee camp for people fleeing ethnic violence in The Democratic Republic of the Congo. Jesse Kizungu was a month away from moving to the United States when they married. Bringing Viviane to the United States took longer because of additional vetting measures implemented last year by the White House.

The Kizungus spoke by phone nearly every day of their time apart. “Of course, that is not enough,” said Jesse Kizungu. “When you’re so close, you become one. She is my best friend in life.”

The couple will settle in East Greensboro as Jesse nears completion of a business degree through the University of Maryland University College, and Vivane researches higher education opportunities. They said their hope is to start a family and, for Jesse, to potentially establish a church in Greensboro.

Katherine Reynolds, interim director of Elon Law’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, has been working with Jesse to bring Viviane to the United States since she first joined the clinic in 2017. “To be the first client whose case I was assigned upon arrival, this feels like I’ve come full circle,” Reynolds said. “I’m looking forward to seeing Jesse and Viviane start their lives here together.”

Elon Law student reflections on the reunification

“I was so glad to be able to witness the reunification yesterday. I have been working at HILC since January – first as a resident, now as a student worker – and I know how frustrating the immigration process can be. It was so rewarding getting to see a more positive side of things. It made me feel inspired to continue to work for immigration rights through law school and beyond.” – Alexis Williams L’19 

“I think it’s hard to really put into perspective how what we are learning in the classroom can really affect the outside world but the reunification at the airport really helped show a bigger picture of why I decided to come to law school. My goal as a lawyer is to make a difference in the world and help as many people as possible, especially those who do not have easy access to good legal services. This particular couple had been separated for several years and watching them unite at the airport was heartwarming. While it helped justify my reason for being here, it also helped me realize that my problems are not as big as they seem.” – Mackenzie Carpenter L’20

“What I saw at the airport is one of the reasons that I decided to come to law school. Being able to see a family reunited after years with the help of our fellow lawyers, professors, and classmates reminds me that a system riddled with complexities and hardships can work. Having the opportunity to share in this life-changing moment with these inspiring people has shown me that advocating for others is more than being in a courtroom or in front of a judge – it’s being at places like airports to welcome someone home.” – Kirbi Walters L’20