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Migrant Encampment in Kent to stay after threats of arrests

KENT, Wash. — A growing encampment with over 200 asylum seekers next to the old Econo Lodge in Kent is here to stay for the time being.

On Sunday, the City of Kent and King County posted some letters by the encampment and police officers warned people if they did not clear out by 3:00 p.m. Tuesday, then people would be arrested for trespassing.

“And so particularly the families with kids that attend school in Kent they are really worried about that,” Alexander Jimenez, who has been staying at the encampment, said.

Kent Assistant Police Chief Jarod Kasner sent KIRO7 this statement on the decision:

“The City is aware that on Saturday, June 1, 2024, a number of asylum seekers from Venezuela, Congo and Angola set up a camp on property being leased by King County located on Central Avenue North on the south side of the 167 freeway overpass. The City understands that these individuals moved onto the County controlled property without the County’s permission or knowledge. King County has advised the City that the individuals do not have permission to be on the property and are trespassed from the property. King County has asked for the City’s assistance in removing them.

The property in question is under the authority and control of King County which leased the property as part of a larger property transaction during the Covid 19 emergency. The City of Kent does not own or control the property in question, nor does the City own or control the use of the hotel adjacent to the property.

On Sunday, June 2, the City provided the asylum seekers with King County’s notice that they must leave and posted the notices on the property. Kent Police Department personnel were intending to return to the site to provide notice of the need to leave in various non-English languages. Today, the City was advised that the King County Sheriff will not participate in the enforcement of the trespass order. The City will not take action in the enforcement of trespass on County property without the partnership of the King County Sheriff.

The current immigration issues are of national and statewide concern. Neither South King cities nor King County has the resources to address these concerns. It is appropriate for the federal government to step in, and in its absence, the response to this issue must be spread across the entire State and not concentrated in South King County.”

KIRO7 also reached out to King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Office for more about their plans to help those asylum seekers. We were provided with this statement on how the Econo Lodge won’t be used for housing for the migrants as well as how the county doesn’t have a place for them:

“We understand the difficulty in meeting the housing needs of asylum seekers who are newly arriving here in King County, and it is important to put this in the context of the regional housing crisis we are currently in. The need in our region continues to grow. Right now, over 9,800 people sleep outside in King County every night. This existing crisis has strained available regional shelter and service capacity.

King County has a legal agreement at the request of the City of Kent not to use the former EconoLodge property for anything other than the purpose of isolation and quarantine or other city-authorized uses. Therefore, we must abide by that and are not actively pursuing this property as a possible shelter.

We understand the rationale for the request by asylee seekers to use the hotel in the short term, but the reality of doing so is much more complicated than simply unlocking the doors and turning on the lights. And given the limits of the permissible uses at this site based on our legal agreement with the City of Kent, we have not completed a full assessment. However, we know that full operations and capital for an emergency shelter, even in the short term, are beyond the County’s available resources.

We have exhausted all available funding to assist the immediate needs of asylee seekers at the Kent location and elsewhere in the county. King County began responding to the emerging need in November of last year and was the first government entity to resource short-term housing options, which included $3 million in funding to retain a service provider that has worked to house over 350 individuals and families. King County awarded four nonprofits $2 million in grant funding in April. Our grant management team overseeing contract negotiations for this funding is working to determine how quickly portions of this can be redirected for awardees to use for emergency housing since the original intent of that funding was for longer-term housing and case management. Approximately $25,000 was already redirected from case management to emergency housing on May 6th, a result of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project voluntarily agreeing to reduce their contract award by this amount and transferring it to ReWA so they could put it toward housing those in immediate need.

The budget signed by Governor Inslee in March included $5 million for King County, which will be available beginning in July. King County is looking at staffing and structure options to implement once the funds are available and balancing how we respond to the growing need.

King County also continues to work in partnership with the state to support the rollout of the $25 million appropriated by the legislature to help address the issue. The state now has an open proposal process to identify organizations that can lead on housing, legal service coordination, and case management.”

Rosario Lopez, a community organizer helping the asylum seekers out, says the Econo Lodge really is the best option right now.

“We need those 90 days for people to be waiting inside as you can tell we have children. We have families and they shouldn’t be here in the cold,” Lopez said.

Lopez says they weren’t going to move not because they were protesting the City of Kent and King County’s orders, they felt like they had no other place to go.

“So, if they said ‘hey, this is not going to work but we have this other place where people can go.’ We will move right away,” Lopez said.

KIRO7 has reached out to the City of Kent for comment on the matter and is still waiting for a response.

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