Kent asylum seekers urge use of vacant ‘COVID hotel’ for shelter

Asylum seekers are begging for a long-term solution to living in tents — they have been moved between Seattle, Tukwila and Kent, and now have less than a day to move again.

Chibuzo Robinson, a Nigerian asylum seeker, called on King County leaders for help.

"If there’s any way they can help us move out from here, it would be better for us for our life," said Robinson.

Asylum seekers from Congo, Angola, and Venezuela are proposing the use of an abandoned ‘COVID hotel’ as temporary housing, a request they have persistently made. Camped out next to the vacant hotel, they are urging city and county leaders to provide them with shelter as they navigate their journey toward permanent residency in the United States.

Already, a looming eviction deadline threatens the asylum seekers' temporary encampment. They are scheduled to be evicted Tuesday afternoon, and many fear the impact this will have on their immigration status.

Javier Ponce, a Venezuelan asylum seeker, shared his experience with the harsh winter conditions, saying, "We have never experienced a winter as brutal as this one," Ponce said, reflecting on the challenges faced over the past six months in Seattle. Jonathan Lotumba, a 22-year-old Congolese asylum seeker, also described the instability of their current living situation, with tents and tarps frequently being blown away. "There’s no stability for anyone," Lotumba stated.

The asylum seekers have proposed moving into the former Econo Lodge in Kent, located on Central Ave N just south of SR 167, previously used as a COVID emergency hotel, but now vacant.

"We’re looking at it; the hotel is vacant," Ponce said. "Why not give us the opportunity to stay in that hotel for a few months until each of us is stable and can become independent?"

Lotumba says that moving into the hotel would bring "hope, stability, and happiness" to many.

For 11-year-old Joslim, a Congolese asylum seeker, a move to the hotel would mean the opportunity to enroll in school. "I want to enroll in school," Joslim said, expressing his eagerness to study science.

However, King County officials have made it clear that the asylum seekers are trespassing and could face arrest if they do not vacate the area by Tuesday afternoon. "If I get arrested, I will have more problems with my case," Lotumba said, highlighting the asylum seekers' fears of the potential consequences on their immigration status.

"Supposedly, the police are for the protection of citizens. What are they protecting here? This piece of land may be private, but it’s empty," Ponce said. "If they remove us from here without a solution, it shows a brutal incompetence on the part of the state. We are immigrants; we are human beings, too. We are not criminals; we need an opportunity."

FOX 13 News reached out to the Kent Mayor, but heard back from Kent Police Department, instead, who issued this statement:

"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, and has asked for the City’s assistance in removing them. The City has provided them with notice that they must leave within 48 hours."

"There are skilled workers here; professionals, capable people. I want the state to not see us as a burden. Our political situation brought us here," said Ponce. "We are also the future of the United States. We want to give our best."

The situation remains uncertain, and it is unclear where the asylum seekers will go if police enforce the eviction. 

More than $30 million in federal funding to help migrants will become available in July.

FOX 13 reached out to King County Executive Dow Constantine, and we are waiting to hear back.


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