KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Markovich: 75% of King County refugees won’t get what they seek

Jun 4, 2024, 10:25 AM | Updated: 11:01 am

Photo: The saga of 100 asylum seekers, who have been pushed around King County, may be ending soon ...

The saga of 100 asylum seekers, who have been pushed around King County, may be ending soon as they face eviction.(Photo: Sam Campbell, KIRO Newsradio)

(Photo: Sam Campbell, KIRO Newsradio)

The saga of 100 asylum seekers, who have been pushed around King County, may be ending soon as they face eviction from a makeshift tent city in Kent.

Most of them don’t speak English. Their wandering attempt to seek shelter and refugee in this county makes me wonder who will be responsible for them in the future. At last count, there are 350 so-called asylum seekers camped out at the Riverton United Methodist Church in Tukwila. And they keep coming, with staff reporting 15 more last week.

A hundred others have been bouncing around hotels at taxpayers’ expense. More than $3 million so far has been spent and the refugees have now been forced to leave a Kent motel because the money has run out.

They are holed up in a grassy King County-owned lot, facing eviction. The county said they have to be gone in 48 hours.

So who will be responsible for them now?

The church that accepted them in the first place is overwhelmed. The cities of Tukwila, Seattle and King County have all put limits on pulling millions more out of their collective wallets. However, the state just approved $25 million to help asylum seekers but that’s for the entire state and the money is still in the pipeline.

Markovich: Elected officials need accountability for their ‘generosity’ with our tax dollars

Or is this a federal issue?

There is already a backlog of 3.3 million immigration cases and only 734 federal asylum-seeking judges to hear them nationwide. The average case takes three and a half years to complete.

So I looked into what’s happening locally. According to TRAC Immigration statistics, I was surprised to find there are only 13 asylum judges servicing Seattle and Tacoma cases. From 2018 to 2023, they handled 8,152 cases and collectively denied asylum 73% of the time. That’s nearly three-quarters of refugees getting denied. One judge denied 81% of the cases he saw. For another, it was 54%.

If that pattern holds true, three out of the four asylum seekers at the church, and those about to be evicted, won’t receive the federal and state protections an asylum seeker seeks. They could soon join the rest of Seattle’s growing homeless population and that’s not good for anyone.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, or email him here.

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Markovich: 75% of King County refugees won’t get what they seek