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Venezuelan migrants booted from Seattle-area hotel after nonprofit credit card maxes out

caption: Frey is an organizer with the Venezuelan asylum hopefuls. He says they've been so busy trying to find safety. He's speaking here alongside an interpreter in front of the Kent Quality Inn Jan. 29th.
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Frey is an organizer with the Venezuelan asylum hopefuls. He says they've been so busy trying to find safety. He's speaking here alongside an interpreter in front of the Kent Quality Inn Jan. 29th.
KUOW Photo/Gustavo Sagrero

Roughly 200 Venezuelans seeking asylum must leave a Kent hotel where they’ve taken shelter by Tuesday, after which some plan to march to Seattle City Hall to share their needs. The hotel’s management said the credit card on file to pay for their stay has been repeatedly declined.

It costs roughly $3,600 per night to house the Venezuelan asylum-seekers.

“I thought it was two or three days of cold, but it lasted maybe five or six,” said Eli Min, general manager of the Quality Inn Hotel in Kent. “We helped the community, we did our part, we didn’t get paid.”

Adriana Figueira arrived at the hotel on Jan. 10 during the cold snap with many others, aided by the national nonprofit Save the Kids. She had previously been staying at the Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila, where at one point more than 500 asylum-seekers took refuge, many in tents.

Figueira, like the other asylum-seekers here, left Venezuela because they felt unsafe in the country.

The U.S. has placed sanctions on Venezuela in recent years, exacerbating the country’s economic conditions. At the same time, the U.S. has been granting temporary protected status for Venezuelan immigrants, incentivizing many to come here.

“We need help with applying for asylum, a place to live, and jobs,” said Figueira in Spanish. She’s been collaborating with other Venezuelan migrants at the hotel to make things better for themselves.

But their current circumstances have her and others re-assessing their priorities, the first of which is to find stable housing, which she said is why they’ll peacefully march to Seattle City Hall — so more than anything, the city can meet them and learn about their needs.

“We’re in a fight with the situation that we find ourselves in,” Figueira said.

The cold snap sent advocates scrambling to give Figueria and others a warm place to stay. Save the Kids was among those who descended on the church tent encampment to help.

RELATED: 'Help us.' Tukwila asylum-seekers take refuge in hotels as permanent shelter, warmer weather evades them

“We later found out that they didn’t have the resources,” Figueira said. “Now the hotel owners have given us hours to leave if there isn’t a way to pay.”

“We took them without guaranteed payment or funding, and it was just because of the emergency cold weather,” Min, the hotel manager, said.

Min said city of Burien and King County officials have asked him to keep people sheltered at the hotel until Thursday while they find solutions, but he’d like a written agreement first. He’s already been burned once before, he said.

“I’d consider extending their stay without immediate payment if someone with authority — like the governor, or King County, or Bill Gates — said they are guaranteeing payment and that they just need time to pay.”

Some of the asylum-seekers said they’ve tried to return to Riverton Park United Methodist Church, only to be turned away by the church. Church organizers said they don’t have space and they’ve been receiving 15 to 20 people a day recently, a significant increase from previous months.

RELATED: For these asylum-seekers, a Tukwila church offers temporary comfort and refuge

Organizers within the Venezuelan migrant community at the hotel have started a grassroots group called Comunidad Sin Fronteras on social media, and plan to open a Venmo account to receive donations, in addition to marching to Seattle City Hall.

Mike Faulk, a spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee's office, told KUOW Inslee has requested increased funding in the state budget for programs that could help asylum-seekers, which the state legislature would have to approve. That money wouldn’t arrive until later this year.

Sarah Peterson, the state’s refugee coordinator and a member of a state task force to address this issue, said there’s not much the state can do in the immediate future because it’s “limited to administering programs that support refugees and humanitarian immigrants that fall under current appropriations and federal regulations.”

The Kent Mayor’s Office and King County Department of Community and Health Services have not responded to KUOW’s requests for comment.

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