Kent Police won't remove asylum seekers without King County assistance | Update

Encampment next to former hotel remains; Sheriff’s Office says Kent agreed to enforce trespass law

Asylum seekers set up camp Saturday, June 2, in Kent next to the former Econo Lodge, now vacant and owned by King County. Asylum seekers want the county and city of Kent to reopen the hotel for them. BAILEY JO JOSIE,

Asylum seekers set up camp Saturday, June 2, in Kent next to the former Econo Lodge, now vacant and owned by King County. Asylum seekers want the county and city of Kent to reopen the hotel for them. BAILEY JO JOSIE,

An encampment of asylum seekers remained June 4 on vacant King County property in Kent, next to the former Econo Lodge, after Kent Police did not receive help from the King County Sheriff’s Office to enforce a trespass order.

Asylum seekers from Venezuela, Congo and Angola set up a camp on Saturday, June 1, on property next to the vacant Econo Lodge, 1233 Central Ave. N., which is owned by the county. King County bought the hotel for $3.4 million in 2020 to serve as a quarantine facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asylum seekers want the hotel reopened by the county so they can stay at the facility. King County officials, however, have rejected that idea. County officials asked for the city of Kent’s assistance to remove the asylum seekers and their tents from the vacant land near Highway 167 and the Central Avenue exit.

“Today (Tuesday, June 4), the city was advised that the King County Sheriff will not participate in the enforcement of the trespass order,” Kent Police Assistant Chief Jarod Kasner said in an email. “The city will not take action in the enforcement of trespass on county property without the partnership of the King County Sheriff.”

The Sheriff’s Office issued the following statement to the Kent News in response to Kasner’s comment.

“The city of Kent asked King County to issue the notice of trespass based on our legal agreement with them,” said Sheriff’s Office Capt. Cory Stanton in a June 4 email. “If Kent is no longer planning to enforce their request, then the county will not enforce the trespass but will continue our work with the organizations we have funded to do outreach to asylees.”

Kasner said the county asked Kent Police to help remove the encampment.

“The city understands that these individuals moved onto the county-controlled property without the county’s permission or knowledge,” Kasner said. “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.”

Kasner said Kent Police posted notice Sunday, June 2 for the asylum seekers to leave the property within 48 hours, which would have been Tuesday, June 4.

“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,” Kasner said. “Kent Police Department personnel were intending to return to the site to provide notice of the need to leave in various non-English languages.”

Kent Police, as of Tuesday, June 4, didn’t take that action without the assistance of the Sheriff’s Office.

“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,” Kasner said. “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.”

Kasner said city leaders understand it remains a challenge for asylum seekers to find a place to stay.

“The current immigration issues are of national and statewide concern,” Kasner said. “Neither South King County 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.”

Asylum seekers have bounced around from hotels, including the Kent Quality Inn and SeaTac locations, and temporary shelters for numerous months. Many asylum seekers and supporters from nonprofits spoke at an April 16 Kent City Council meeting that they wanted the former Econo Lodge reopened to house as many as 300 asylum seekers and refugees.

“We urge the city to amend the language of the MOU (memorandum of understanding) with King County to allow to use the Econo Lodge for emergency housing for asylum seekers,” said Jon Grant, chief strategy officer for the Seattle-based Low Income Housing Institute, a nonprofit affordable housing provider, at the council meeting. “Riverton Church began turning families away so they started arriving here in Kent.”

Immigrants by the hundreds showed up at Riverton United Methodist Church in Tukwila for housing and assistance. That church is known for helping refugees, but the number of people became more than it could handle and that began the exodus to hotels with rooms paid for by private and public donations. But when those funds run out, the asylum seekers move again looking for housing.

A King County spokesperson for County Executive Dow Constantine said after the April Kent City Council meeting that the county has no plans to reopen the hotel.

Pat Fitzpatrick, city of Kent chief administrative officer, said in an email after the April council meeting the agreement between the county and city detailed that the hotel could only be used as a pandemic quarantine facility until the governor’s state of emergency ended.

“(The MOU) required the county to comply with all zoning and land use requirements for any use other than as a quarantine facility,” Fitzpatrick said. “This would be applicable to any landowner or business operator generally by law.”

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