It’s not everyday that Hawaii makes national news. Apart from the Obamas’ yearly visits, our little islands tend to be in the blindspot of most of America.
But not on Friday.
On Friday, the state of Hawaii, led by Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court arguing that President Donald Trump’s executive order suspending refugee resettlements and temporarily banning citizens of seven Muslim-majority is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was eloquently written and delivered, making the case that this is not about politics or rhetoric, but defending the law.
It was a proud day for the Aloha state, made even better by Chin’s insistence that Hawaii would not be bullied by the president or the federal government.
“There’s always that concern that we should be careful not to poke the U.S. government because they might end up retaliating against us,” Chin told Civil Beat’s Rui Kaneya. “But this is too important. … When you’re talking about orders that are discriminating against people based on national origin or based on their religion, you have to take a stand. We can’t just allow this.”
We agree. Which is why, in addition to the bold actions Chin and Gov. David Ige have taken in the courts, we are calling for Hawaii to officially declare itself a sanctuary state.
The debate over so-called sanctuary cities and states — jurisdictions that limit how much support they’ll give the federal government in detaining unauthorized immigrants — is nothing new. In fact, the fight has been ongoing since the 1980s. It has transcended party politics (President Obama squared off against sanctuary cities multiple times) because, thus far, it has fundamentally been about states rights vs. the federal government.
Trump changed all that.
In his short time in office thus far, Trump has issued a series of executive orders on immigration that have elevated the debate from one of bureaucratic cooperation to one of existential values.
His alarming immigration executive orders have been widely seen as xenophobic and racist as well as a political litmus test for how far he can go toward fulfilling his campaign promise of a ban on all Muslims.
For Hawaii’s own safety as well as our values and reputation as the Aloha State, it is critical that we stand up to his policies and threats and, for the first time, declare ourselves a sanctuary state.
Trump’s orders have targeted a broad group of immigrants for deportation, including those that have been charged with, but not convicted of, a crime, and, even more nebulously, those who any immigration officer thinks “pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
He has also authorized local law enforcement officers “to perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension or detention of aliens in the United States,” which opens up a lot of potential for local police officers to racially profile, raid and then deport undocumented immigrants.
In the face of racism masquerading as security policy, becoming a sanctuary state is the right thing to do.
This is where the importance of sanctuary cities and states comes in.
Most undocumented immigrants, after all, aren’t criminals. But they can often be the victims or witnesses of crimes. When local police officers have the power to detain and deport unauthorized immigrants, those people become a lot more reticent to report crimes or help police officers, which puts all of us at risk.
In roughly 500 sanctuary jurisdictions across the country, undocumented immigrants who are booked in jail for minor infractions (but not yet convicted of anything) are reported to the federal government, but not held any longer than normal. This prevents the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, from being able to take custody and deport them.
If, however, an undocumented person is charged with more serious crimes, like murder, sexual assault or human smuggling, most sanctuary cities and states will comply with federal requests to hold the person for 48 hours so he or she can be taken into ICE custody.
Sally Hernandez, the sheriff of Travis County in Texas, says this is a vitally important distinction because, “Our jail cannot be perceived as a holding tank for ICE. We cannot afford to make our community less safe by driving people into the shadows.”
Hawaii has as many as 21,000 undocumented immigrants living in the islands. None of our law enforcement jurisdictions thus far have been sanctuaries; the state sheriff’s office and county police departments voluntarily work with ICE on a routine basis to enforce immigration laws.
To dissuade states like Hawaii from defying him, however, Trump is employing his best bullying tactics — threatening to withhold hundreds of millions, if not billions, of federal funds. But many legal experts insist he has little legal authority to do so. Legal precedent clearly shows that the federal government can’t take federal funds hostage to coerce states nor can it compel states to enact a federal regulatory program.
In light of Trump’s rhetoric around Muslim immigrants and his efforts to strongarm states into submission, Hawaii must stand up for itself, its values and its reputation.
“Some people keep beating the drums of xenophobia, so we need to counter that,” state Rep. Kaniela Ing told Kaneya.
Ing is planning on introducing a resolution to make Hawaii a sanctuary state. “We’re a state with a rich immigrant history. We should be a place of compassion without fear and hate-mongering that appeal to our nativist, nationalist tendencies.”
Ige has also cited Hawaii’s diversity and history as reason enough to oppose Trump’s immigration policies. Referring to the experiences of Japanese-Americans in World War II internment camps, he said in a statement, “We must remain true to our values and be vigilant where we see the worst part of history about to be repeated.”
Hawaii took a bold and brave step in filing that lawsuit on Friday. We’ll be cheering it on.
But in the meantime, as the rule of law plays out in court, Hawaii should declare itself a sanctuary state. Not only because it will serve as a helpful tool for our police force, but because in the face of racism masquerading as security policy, it’s the right thing to do.