Home Border Washington state supplemental budget includes $32M for asylum seekers

Washington state supplemental budget includes $32M for asylum seekers


(The Center Square) – A year after a small church in Tukwila began taking in hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers, lawmakers are offering some major help in the form of $32 million in the supplemental budget passed by the Legislature this session set aside for new migrant arrivals in Washington state.

Many of the asylum seekers ending up in the Evergreen State have come from violence-plagued parts of southern Africa, including Angola, while others have left Columbia, Guatemala and Venezuela.

Tukwila Mayor Thomas McLeod addressed state lawmakers during a January public hearing about the crisis in his community.

“Since the spring of last year, a small church in Tukwila, Riverton United Methodist Church, has been the epicenter for asylum seekers coming to western Washington,” he said, noting several months later he declared a state of emergency in response to the worsening situation.

“We have individuals with children sleeping outdoors, and the city and church do not have the resources to continue to support the influx of asylum seekers,” McLeod said. “It should not fall on one city to address this regional humanitarian crisis.”

Hundreds of families have been sleeping inside the church, or in tents on the property, then using the church kitchen and laundry areas during the day.

Hundreds of others have been placed into Airbnbs and local hotels.

Many of the asylum seekers arriving in the Seattle area have gone through the U.S. immigration system and are waiting to receive work authorization. Those applicants can’t work until they get permits or they risk jeopardizing their immigration cases.

Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, sponsored a measure, House Bill 2368 to require the state Department of Social and Health Services to coordinate statewide efforts to support immigrants and refugees arriving and resettling in Washington and authorizes the DSHS to administer services to immigrants who are ineligible for federally funded services.

HB 3268 passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday.

“I have the pleasure of living in south King County, near the airport,” Gregerson said. “It really is the first place people call home when they come from another country.”

Alex Hur with One America testified in support of HB 2368 earlier this year.

“Unfortunately the world is not at peace, and whether it’s war, political or religious persecution, impacts of climate change or drug trade violence, families are forced to leave their home countries in search of safety,” Hur told lawmakers. “We need a better, more coordinated response and strategy to support immigrants, refugees and asylees.”

Sandra RoDarte with the Latino Civic Alliance urged support for the legislation, telling lawmakers her organization is on the front lines.

“We are currently supporting 70 Venezuelan and Colombian Latino families staying mostly in tents, some with infants living at Riverton Park Church in Tukwila,” she said, adding the Latino Civic Alliance doesn’t have the resources to truly help the people she mentioned. “We need your help.”

Of the $32 million set aside in the supplemental budget, more than $25 million is poised to go to the state’s Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, followed by $5 million to King County, and $2.5 million to Tukwila.

Sarah Peterson, refugee coordinator with the Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, told The Center Square her office is already preparing how to use the funds.

“These funds will go into effect beginning July 1, 2024, and will be invested into client services contracts with local community partners,” she emailed The Center Square.

“We will be conducting a series of listening sessions to learn from the impacted community, community-based organizations and local governments who have been supporting and serving this community. The department will be completing a competitive application process to ensure that we are inviting all potential organizations to provide culturally responsive and linguistically appropriate services.”

Peterson went on to note, “Our goal is to be good stewards of these funds and invest in the services that are desperately needed for newcomers.”

School district such as Tukwila that have seen a significant increase in homeless students seeking asylum will get $1 million, she said.