Testimony given by ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow Tomo Duke at a King County budget hearing 10/25/2023, addressing the crisis of 300+ newly arrived immigrants from Angola and Venezuela, seeking asylum while living in tents and on the church floor at Riverton Park United Methodist Church, Tukwila, WA.

Multifaith communities in our network have expressed together concerns and extended physical support for the immigrants at Riverton Park UMC, but we all know that’s not enough and sustainable.

The immigrants I met at Riverton Park are kind and constantly expressed their gratitude to me as I was helping them file their asylum applications. I formerly worked at a migrant shelter in Tijuana at the southern border, so for me, meeting the immigrants at the Riverton Park was like meeting the immigrants on the other side of the border, who finally received ‘the good news’ to cross the border.

For those immigrants, it wasn’t a quick decision to come to the US; after they endure violence, political and economic instability, or physical danger, they finally make a bold decision to take a risk to migrate to the U.S. Many of the immigrants have migrated not days or months, but years, making their ways from Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, up and up, including the children. And the migration paths are so dangerous that some do not make it.

The current conditions these immigrants are in, without proper shelter in Tukwila and throughout King County, cannot be the treatment they receive from the country that welcomed them in. They are humanitarian parolees, with human dignity and worth, and it is irresponsible of the government and the immigration system here to welcome them in, and not to give at least shelter and safety. Many of them are waiting anxiously for their immigration hearings, for their work authorizations, or for other document approvals, and wondering what they could eat the next day. Those asylum seekers are the most vulnerable, lacking support and protection from the government and without assistance from resettlement programs.

Please give them the systemic support they need, making allocations in the budget to expedite case management, offer family-appropriate shelters, and sustainable administrative support. They have been in this situation long enough.

I hope that the King County can be a community that models justice to immigrants.

For more information on this quickly changing situation, see the Seattle Times article and editorial, and KUOW story. To help:
– You can provide material and volunteer support
Join the coalition response, led by WA Immigrant Solidarity Network, OneAmerica, Congolese Integration Network, and Low Income Housing Institute.
– Help identify places for emergency congregate living where they can begin to get families with children out of the rain.