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Asylum-seekers looking for shelter set up encampment in south Kent

A man walks through an encampment of tents where several people are sitting, squatting, and standing around.
Lindsey Wasson
A man walks through an encampment of asylum-seekers mostly from Venezuela, Congo and Angola next to an unused motel owned by the county, Wednesday, June 5, 2024, in Kent, Washington. The group of about 240 asylum-seekers is asking to use the motel as temporary housing while they look for jobs and longer-term accommodations.

Asylum-seekers who have been looking for shelter in Washington state, mainly from Angola, Congo and Venezuela, have set up an encampment in the Seattle suburb.

The asylum-seekers moved to the site next to an empty motel south of Seattle in Kent, on Saturday, The Seattle Times reported.

The motel is owned by King County and was used as a place for homeless people to quarantine if they contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic. Signs near the encampment on Tuesday asked for the motel to open so they can stay there.

Some of the asylum-seekers camping at the site had been sheltered in a church in the nearby suburb of Tukwila while others lost their short-term motel or rental housing when it expired June 1.

Riverton Park United Methodist Church’s pastor, Rev. Jan Bolerjack, told the newspaper it has taken in asylum-seekers for nearly two years and that its resources are overloaded.

“The temporary migrant shelter is currently at capacity, and we cannot accept any new residents,” a message on the church’s website said Tuesday. “Thank you for your understanding and support.”

Some people in the camp told KOMO-TV on Tuesday that they left their home countries to escape violence.

“We would like the government to help and assist us," Chibuzo Robinson, who is from Nigeria, told the media outlet. "We don’t have any place to stay,”

An email Tuesday from a spokesperson for King County Executive Dow Constantine's office said the money allocated to help with the immediate needs of asylum-seekers has been exhausted and that the county began responding to the emerging need last November. King County has spent $3 million to retain a service provider that has worked to house over 350 individuals and families.

It is expecting millions more in funds, allocated by the state Legislature, starting in July.

“We know that full operations and capital for an emergency shelter, even in the short term, are beyond the County’s available resources,” the email from Constantine's office said.

Many of those who came to the U.S. seeking asylum have been moving around in the state for months.

On Sunday afternoon, three Kent police officers posted a 48-hour eviction notice from King County, with a deadline of Tuesday afternoon to leave. The letter from the county, signed by Facilities Management Division Director Anthony Wright, said people who don’t leave were subject to arrest for trespassing.

The deadline came and went on Tuesday with no action by law enforcement. The Kent Police Department and the King County Sheriff's Office seemed to contradict each other in statements after the deadline over which agency actually wanted the group gone.

In an email to The Associated Press, Kent Assistant Police Chief Jarod Kasner said the county had asked for the city’s help to remove the people in the camp. Kasner also said Kent police would not enforce the eviction notice because the King County Sheriff's Office would not participate in the action.

The King County Sheriff's Office said in an email Tuesday evening that it was the city of Kent that asked the county to issue the trespass notice, based on a legal agreement between the law enforcement agencies.

The statement said it would not enforce the order to vacate if Kent police were no longer planning to do so but would continue working with organizations the county has funded to do outreach to asylum-seekers.

President Joe Biden unveiled plans on Tuesday to enact restrictions on migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border when U.S. officials deem that the southern border is overwhelmed.

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