Quality Inn on West Meeker Street in Kent. COURTESY PHOTO, Quality Inn

Quality Inn on West Meeker Street in Kent. COURTESY PHOTO, Quality Inn

Kent hotel owner says refugees need to leave after nonprofit fails to pay bill

Hopes to work out resolution by Friday, Feb. 2; uncertain where refugees will go

The owner of a Kent hotel hopes to have a resolution in the next 24 to 72 hours about where refugees from Venezuela staying at the location will go since nobody is paying for the rooms.

Eli Min, who along with his family have owned the Quality Inn at 1711 W. Meeker St. since May 2022, said he cannot afford to have the families continue to stay there after a nonprofit called Save the Kids promised to pay for the rooms but hasn’t come through with the money.

“Ultimately, I need to do what’s best for my family,” Min said in a Tuesday, Jan. 30 interview with the Kent News.

More than 150 people from about 90 families occupy about 60 rooms at the hotel.

Min said he hopes to meet with the leaders of the refugee group and Save the Kids Tuesday evening in an effort to find answers. He backed off on an initial Tuesday, Jan. 30 deadline for the people to leave.

The refugees came to the Kent hotel earlier in January from the Riverton United Methodist Church in Tukwila when that church became overwhelmed with too many refugees to house in tents or inside the church.

Min said a representative from Save the Kids approached him in December about housing families at the hotel. He said they had a verbal agreement about a price.

“We had no contracts,” Min said. “It was against all business logic. It went against my senses.”

He said he wasn’t sure if he was doing it “out of the goodness of my heart” or knowing “I’d get a good amount of money out of it.”

Min said he met with Maurece Graham-Bey of Save the Kids. Graham-Bey, of Bothell, started a GoFundMe account in Dec. 6, 2023 to help house families staying at the Tukwila church. Min said he wasn’t aware of that account.

“Dear friends, we need your support to help immigrant families seeking asylum near Seattle,” Graham-Bey wrote. “These families have fled political unrest and economic collapse, facing unimaginable hardships.”

After raising $4,140 from 13 donations, Graham-Bey posted on Dec. 15, 2023 that “we are pleased with the support, and are turning our attention to other methods of fundraising.”

Graham-Bey is listed on the savethekidsgroup.org website as the national director of critical reintegration services for the group. The Kent News left a voicemail Jan. 30 for Graham-Bey, but has not heard back.

Min said he talked to people with the national Save the Kids group, reportedly based in Utah, but they denied knowing much about the fundraising effort to house people at the Kent hotel. He said an individual not connected to the group paid for a few rooms initially on a credit card before that stopped.

Leila Nimmer, listed as a friend on the GoFundMe page started by Save the Kids, left a voicemail for the Kent News on Jan. 16 that Save the Kids planned to house as many as 50 families from the Tukwila church property to get them out of tents and into housing. She didn’t mention where the group planned to house the families.

The Kent News reached out to Nimmer Jan. 30, but she has not returned a voicemail.

Min said he reached out to the city of Kent, King County and the city of Tukwila. He said Kent didn’t respond. He said the county called back but said they couldn’t do anything. He said a Tukwila city official said the refugees could not come back to the city.

City of Kent response

When asked about the refugee situation at the Quality Inn by the Kent News, Pat Fitzpatrick, city of Kent chief administrative officer, said the city couldn’t do much.

“The city has been to the site and has confirmed that individuals are being housed in hotel rooms,” Fitzpatrick said in a Jan. 29 email. “The hotel owner agreed to house these individuals, and we understand he has not been paid by the nonprofit group that transported the individuals and promised payment.

“The city considers this a business matter between the hotel and the nonprofit, and does not have the resources to remove and relocate individuals from the hotel rooms. The city also does not have a current plan to forcibly remove individuals from the hotel rooms.”

Fitzpatrick said city staff will keep an eye on things.

“The city will continue to monitor the situation,” Fitzpatrick said. “In the meantime, as this is a national and statewide issue that no Washington city has the resources to resolve, the city has reached out to a member of our federal delegation, the Governor’s office and King County for insight into a resolution.”

Refugees from Venezuela

According to a 2023 article on immigrationforum.org, “since 2015, more than 7 million Venezuelans have emigrated due to ongoing economic and political turmoil. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Venezuelan exodus - representing a quarter of Venezuela’s population - is the world’s second-largest refugee crisis. Moreover, the exodus shows little sign of slowing, with an estimated 2,000 Venezuelans still leaving their country every day.

“During the first years of this exodus, most Venezuelans initially settled in neighboring countries. However, in the last year, an increasing number of Venezuelans have traveled to the United States to seek asylum. As a result, in fiscal year 2022, U.S. authorities encountered almost 188,000 Venezuelans at the border, an increase of 73% from fiscal 2021.”

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