People of Mexican descent are unfairly targeted by local police and federal agents in Hawaii, according to the authors of a new study that was unveiled Monday.
Although most unauthorized immigrants in the Aloha State are Asian, half of all those detained in and deported from Honolulu immigration facilities are Mexican, the study found.
“This is a severe problem,” Monisha Das Gupta, one of the authors, said at a presentation Monday at the Capitol Building.
The 37-page report, “Newcomers to the Aloha State: Challenges and Prospects for Mexicans in Hawaii,” outlines the historical background of this ethnic group that is relatively new to Hawaii. The study, by the Migration Policy Institute and University of Hawaii, details problems the state’s nearly 40,000 Mexicans experience here, ranging from racial profiling to lack of access to government services.
The researchers, which also included Jeanne Batalova and Sue Patricia Haglund, said the state could do a lot to help improve the situation for this growing population.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, represented the governor’s office at the presentation. Coppa gave Juan Manuel Calderón Jaimes, the deputy director general for consular affairs, a proclamation and noted the state’s efforts this past legislative session to eliminate language barriers.
The state Department of Transportation said in June that it planned to resume providing translations of drivers license tests in eight languages by the end of the year. The test has only been available in English since translations were suspended several years ago.
Mexican Minister Juan Manuel Calderon Jaimes and Bruce Coppa, Gov. Abercrombie’s chief of staff, listen to the presentation on the study.
A DOT spokesperson said Monday that the state now expects to have the translations done by early 2014.
A lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Faith Action for Community Equity to force the department to translate the written part of the drivers license test into other languages that weren’t among the eight initially identified. Spanish was previously included, but Marshallese, Chuukese and Ilocano were not.
Aside from underscoring concerns about Mexicans’ ability to obtain a drivers license, which impacts their ability to get a job or see a doctor, the study unveiled new statistics on immigration cases.
Only 10 percent of the estimated 40,000 unauthorized immigrants living in Hawaii are Mexican. Filipinos, by contrast, comprise the largest group at 40 percent.
However, Mexican nationals accounted for 22 percent of the 767 proceedings before the Honolulu immigration court in 2011. This was the second highest group, second only to China at 24 percent. Filipinos accounted for 20 percent of the cases.
Similar trends were found in the federal detention and deportation statistics. Of 314 detainees between April 2007 and March 2008, the most recent data available, 176 were Mexican and 36 were Filipino, the second-largest group.
“The state government of Hawaii needs to recognize that Mexicans form a steadily growing and stable community,” the report says. “To address the community’s sense of marginalization, the state needs needs to restore the trust that has been negatively impacted by the local-federal cooperation in enforcing immigration law.”
The state can help in large part by helping the Mexican government establish a consulate office in Hawaii, Gupta said. The Consulate General in San Francisco currently serves the Mexican population in Hawaii.
A consulate would play an “incubating role,” Gupta said. The office would help increase the visibility of Mexicans in Hawaii, improve access to services and foster entrepreneurial ties.
Jaimes said the Mexican government intends to work hard to create a consulate office in Hawaii but was unsure how long it would take.
First, Mexico has to get permission from Washington, D.C. Then it has to work out logistics with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Abercrombie, he said.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Louise Kim McCoy, said in an email Monday that Abercrombie supports establishing a Mexican consulate in Hawaii.
“The governor’s office welcomes the opportunity to discuss this matter with the Mexican government along with other topics such as tourism, energy and best management practices regarding natural disasters,” she said.
While the first Mexicans came when they were hired to help King Kamehameha III with his cattle back in the 1830s, they didn’t start moving to Hawaii in larger numbers until the late 1980s. Since 1990, the population has grown 165 percent.
Coppa said Mexico and Hawaii have many things in common, particularly the tourism industry’s value to the economy. Botched pronunciation aside, he also noted that it’s believed that “paniolo,” the Hawaiian word for cowboy, is likely derived from the Spanish word “pañuelo,” which means handkerchief, a common accessory among Mexican cowboys back in the day.
The researchers said they hope a consulate office and other government efforts will help the Mexican community in Hawaii develop common goals and a shared identity.
Part of the challenge is that unlike on the mainland, where Mexicans often live together in distinct neighborhoods, they are more dispersed in Hawaii. Gupta said this is good in the sense of blending into the local community, but makes it harder to have a united cultural and political voice.
The study found that people of Mexican descent differ from their mainland counterparts in other ways, too. The Mexican population in Hawaii is more educated, for instance, likely because the majority were born in the U.S., another big difference.
Read the full report here: