Venezuelan illegal immigrants occupy Seattle community center, school tennis courts to demand free hotel rooms

"We need our community center open, the park clear and our schools safe.” 

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
Dozens of illegal immigrants and local activists occupied a rec area at a Seattle community center and public school, demanding someone pick up the tab for the hotel where they had been staying.

Sources told The Ari Hoffman Show on Talk Radio 570 KVI that staff from Seattle Parks and Recreation arrived at the Garfield Community Center Wednesday morning to find the Venezuelan illegal immigrants in tents on the tennis courts. The property is shared with Garfield High School in the Seattle Public School district.

The school and community center are located in Seattle’s Central District, home to a significant minority and historically black community.

The activists also set up food and supplies for the illegal immigrants and asked the community for donations of tents and other camping gear. The activists from Stop The Sweeps regularly show up to try and prevent the clearing of homeless encampments and when they fail, have tents and supplies for vagrants ready to go a couple blocks away.

The illegal immigrants had been evicted Tuesday from a hotel in nearby Kent, Washington where they had been staying at taxpayers’ expense. The funds for the rooms dried up on Tuesday and the activists were unable to raise more money.

Seattle Public Schools told Hoffman earlier in the day that they were aware of a “protest encampment” located “on the tennis courts adjacent to the Garfield High School campus, which is situated on city property. We are actively collaborating with City of Seattle officials who are developing a plan to resolve this situation.”

The district also asked for “…city support for outreach, assistance, and shelter/housing alternatives for those near the school,” noting that “The safety and wellness of our students and staff remain top priorities for SPS.”

Sources told Hoffman that Wednesday was meant to be the first day of practice for Garfield’s girls tennis team, which had to be moved to another location due to the action.

The courts are heavily used by the community and the center is currently enrolling for spring and summer tennis classes.

Newly elected Seattle Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth told Hoffman in a statement, My heart goes out to the migrants and asylum seekers. I also want to thank the Seattle City employees who have been on-site throughout the day to evaluate the situation and respond to the immediate needs of this group.” 

“However, the health and safety of youth and families in District 3 is my top priority. We need our community center open, the park clear and our schools safe.”  

She added that the city doesn’t have “the resources to respond to this level of need. Migrants and asylum seekers who have traveled from countries around the world to various cities in King County are in need of work permits, housing resources, and other services. Our county, state, and federal governments need to help address the crisis from our southern border to our city doorstep.” 

According to Hollingsworth, she met with Mayor Harrell and regional leaders earlier in the day “to discuss a regional approach to this issue. The State Legislature just passed a bill that would provide over $30 million for shelter and resources for migrants and asylum seekers – but this money is not available yet. I am urgently asking the State to release this funding and King County to articulate a plan for addressing the migrant population in our region.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the group of activists claimed that an unidentified “donor” would be paying for the illegal immigrants to stay in 61 rooms for 11 days. It is unclear who the donor was or if it was a government entity.

As the group packed, security remained on site to make sure there was no disruption of a nearby Little League game and other events.

The activists and illegal immigrants packed up and returned to the hotel. Sources with knowledge of the situation called the action a “shot across the bow” as a warning to city, county, and state officials of what would happen if they did not fund the hotel rooms for the illegal immigrants.

Towards the end of 2023, 300 illegal immigrants from Venezuela and the Congo originally found shelter at the Riverton Park United Methodist Church in Tukwila. Activists vowed to bring all 300 illegal immigrants to the tennis courts.

Some of the group migrated to the Quality Inn in Kent but activists claimed that a donor reneged on funds to pay for the stay.

The group led by activists showed up at Seattle City Hall and demanded the Emerald City pay for their hotel stay. The Mayor of Seattle gave in and paid for a week even though the hotel was not in the city limits.

After the funds were exhausted, the group returned, demanding more money. The Seattle City Council also acquiesced.

In February, the illegal immigrants led by activists crashed a meeting of the Seattle City Council, demanding more funds for the hotel. Council President Sara Nelson said to the group that the city has an obligation to taxpayers to provide housing for people in need in the city limits, like the area’s homeless, and that discussions about funding for illegal immigrants and refugee funding needed to happen at the county and state level because there are limited resources in Seattle.

Those who were part of the disruption were told to leave the chambers, but they refused and were warned they would be arrested if they continued. 6 well-known area activists were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. One of the men was also charged with obstruction and the group is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.

After the failure in Seattle, activists convinced the King County Council to pay for the rooms, but that money recently ran out.

A spokesperson for the city told KOMO News in a statement, "We understand that housing and shelter is the most critical need for families to find safety and stability. We are evaluating next steps."

On Tuesday, a spokesperson told the outlet after it was revealed that the group was out of money for hotel rooms, “bringing these families from Kent to Seattle to sleep outside in the elements is not a solution," adding that “[after] investing in shelter to meet immediate needs, city funding for migrants experiencing homelessness has been exhausted... We urge the group to work with the state of Washington who have the authority and resources to address this ongoing humanitarian need.”

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