Help for WA asylum-seekers awaits Governor Inslee’s signature

Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero, The Seattle Times

OLYMPIA — A bill designed to offer comprehensive assistance to asylum-seekers, is currently awaiting Governor Jay Inslee’s approval. The legislation focused on improving the integration of immigrants and refugees into society and the economy, signals a major step forward in increasing state support for the marginalized group.

Sponsored by Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, the bill passed the House with a vote of 61-35 on Feb. 13 and the Senate with a vote of 29-20 in March. It’s now up to the Governor.

Over the last year, the number of asylum-seekers in King County has grown to exceed 1,000 people, with more than 800 seeking shelter at Tukwila’s Riverton Park United Methodist Church. The church and volunteers have shouldered most of the fundraising and work, raising questions over how state and local governments should address the crisis.

Washington provides access to services such as cash assistance, medical assistance, employment services, English language instruction, and more to refugees through its Office of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance.

Refugees come to the U.S. already having secured a legal status that allows them to work. However, state officials have said they cannot use their funds on asylum-seekers.

Asylum-seekers must wait months before they can receive work permits due to federal regulations. That means they often can’t afford housing, food, or other necessities in the meantime.

House Bill 2368, if signed, would allow immigrants to have greater access to services.

“This is another way that we invest in people,” Gregerson said. “We get them the resources, give them a little bit of help, and then they will turn and become participating people in society.”

While the bill passed through both chambers easily, some voted against it. Concerns over the bill’s fiscal impacts were raised by Sen. Matt Boehnke, R-Kennewick.

“We didn’t have enough time to actually look into those impacts on the community, the impacts on DSHS,” Boehnke said, referring to the Department of Social and Health Services.

So far, King County has dedicated about $4 million for temporary shelter and grants to help the influx of asylum-seekers.

Inslee proposed $8.4 million in his supplemental budget for the effort.

Still, advocates and service providers say it’s not enough and are pushing for the state to allocate $25 million in its budget. The House and Senate proposed budgets both include numbers closer to that.

Cover Photo: Asylum seekers are living inside and on the property of Riverton United Methodist Church in Tukwila. Over the last year, the number of asylum-seekers in King County has grown to exceed 1,000 people, with more than 800 seeking shelter at the church. (Kevin Clark / The Seattle Times)

Publisher’s Notes: Jacquelyn Jimenez Romero is a final-year student at the University of Washington and an intern with WA Latino News (WALN).

This story was written from information first reported in the article, Help for WA asylum-seekers is focus of bill passed by Legislature, originally published in The Seattle Times.

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