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Lack of federal funding for migrant crisis puts nonborder cities in tight spot

As migration policy remains front and center in Washington, communities are faced with the challenge of a humanitarian crisis as Congress has cut federal funding.
Migrants seeking asylum line up while waiting to be processed after crossing the border
Posted at 7:04 PM, Jun 21, 2024

Kent, Washington, is a suburb south of Seattle, and right now it's the home of just over 200 asylum-seekers, men, women and children, who come from different countries including Venezuela, Angola and Congo.

"We've gone through many countries to come here, we've experienced kidnapping and molestations, violations," said an asylum-seeker identified as Linda through a translator at a recent Kent City Council meeting.

It was a packed house, with many other asylum-seekers using the comment period to ask the city for help.

These migrants are currently residing at an encampment next to a freeway off-ramp in the shadow of a shuttered motel, and the help they are specifically asking for is to turn that motel into a migrant shelter. The motel was used during the pandemic for COVID-19 quarantine.

"The city of Kent does not own or control the property in question," said Kent Mayor Dana Ralph during the June 6 meeting.

King County owns the property, and says the building is only cleared for use as a quarantine site. Officials say that even if it was useful for housing migrants, the county has "exhausted all available funding to help" asylum-seekers for now.

County Spokesperson Kristin Elia told Scripps News officials understand the request, but " the reality of doing so is much more complicated than simply unlocking the doors and turning on the lights"

Big cities like Denver, New York and Chicago are having similar issues, figuring out how to help a wave of tens of thousands of migrants amid tight funding, an issue taxing shelters that are already reeling from a record number of homeless people.

New York and Chicago have put limits on how long migrants can stay in shelters, ranging from 30-60 days.

Related story: President Biden’s new border policies cut time for migrant attorney consultations

In May, The New York Times reported that a program that uses hotels as migrant shelters is part of the reason the average hotel price for a night in New York City is over $300.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston plans to cut spending in various city department budgets by around $46 million to fund a $90 million migrant response program.

President Joe Biden, who just used an executive order to limit the amount of new migrants coming over the border, blames Republicans for not backing his border bill that included $1.4 billion in aid to cities to deal with the migrant crisis.

Amid criticism of the plan by Donald Trump, GOP leaders said the legislation failed to secure the border and would have encouraged illegal immigration.

According to Ralph, the lack of funding only puts strain on communities like hers.

"It is appropriate for the federal government to step in, and in its absence, the response to this issue must be spread throughout the state, not just south King County," she said.

Soon the state of Washington will be giving money to counties to help with the migrant crisis. King County will be receiving $5 million.

County officials say they'll be looking at structures and staffing options to address the need for shelter.