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How Kent became a hub for immigrants and refugees

The Kent Valley — Renton, Kent and Auburn — is best known as the biggest manufacturing center in the state. But it’s also a hub for the region’s immigrant community.

About 30 percent of Kent and Renton’s populations are foreign-born, more than double the rate in Washington state, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates.

Many were attracted there as a place to start businesses or find lower-cost housing as they started their lives in the U.S. Rapid growth and rising housing costs, however, are starting to push some immigrants and refugees out.

Here are some of their stories:

See More: KUOW's Region of Boom team explores of Kent Valley.

We followed three refugee arrivals, from touchdown at Sea-Tac Airport to eight months into their lives here. Eight months, because that’s when refugees without families stop receiving small federal payments.

See the stories.

At a new strip mall in downtown Kent, a truck backs up to a butcher shop. The driver opens the back and pulls out a goat carcass. This butcher shop doesn’t sell beef or pork, out of deference to its Hindu and Muslim customers.

It’s the first of many signs that this is no ordinary strip mall.

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Marwal Frotan and his family arrived in Seattle from Afghanistan four months ago. He came to the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visas program for Afghan and Iraqi citizens who have worked with American troops or companies.

Frotan recently found a job driving a van five days a week, delivering packages in Auburn, Tacoma and Federal Way. He chuckles about being new to the area and already driving for a living. “I’m become familiar with all the places,” he said.

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One day in Kent, Cordelia Revells, a case worker with Jewish Family Service, waited while an Iranian couple signed the lease at their first apartment.

A few relatives helped them move in the same day, lugging a flowery couch, a mattress and box spring up three flights of stairs. Revells has placed many new refugees in housing around here.

“Finding housing is definitely the most stressful part of my job,” she said. “Just because it’s essential that they have somewhere to stay right away.”

Read the story.

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