The Honolulu City Council is considering a measure that would prohibit the Honolulu Police Department from cooperating with federal authorities to detain and investigate immigrants who may be living in the country illegally — with some exceptions.
Bill 31, which unanimously passed its first reading last week, would forbid HPD from detaining or transferring individuals for agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and from honoring requests for information regarding a person’s residence or jail release date.
Examples of ICE detainment requests covered by the measure include immigration holds — official requests for the police department to detain a previously arrested individual for an additional 48 hours to allow ICE to consider taking the person into custody — and civil immigration warrants.
The measure would also prevent HPD from arresting or interrogating individuals based on their immigration status or from allowing ICE agents access to people already in police custody for questioning.
HPD could still cooperate with ICE if the federal agents submit a judicial warrant or if the individual had either committed a felony or was a repeat misdemeanor offender during the previous five years.
Lastly, the measure would restrict the police department from using any city resources to assist the federal government in any program requiring the registration of individuals based on immigration status, race or any other qualifier.
The measure would make Honolulu a “sanctuary city.” There are currently eight “sanctuary states” and more than 170 sanctuary cities and counties nationwide.
Introduced by council members Carol Fukunaga and Ann Kobayashi, the measure is called the Hookipa Welcoming Act and follows up on a 2017 resolution in which the council resolved to protect Oahu’s immigrants.
The measure was referred to the council’s Committee on Public Safety and Welfare for further consideration. A similar bill that would have established the immigration policies statewide died in a House committee in March.
Kobayashi and Fukunaga declined to talk about their measure, but they issued a joint statement saying it seeks to embody Honolulu’s “rich heritage” of diversity and inclusion.
Fukunaga said in the statement that the bill also served a deeper purpose.
“It is important for the city to send a clear message that it respects and welcomes immigrants, and we remain committed to protecting their civil and human rights,” Fukunaga said.
Mateo Caballero, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, said while the nonprofit has not yet taken an official position on the bill, it generally supports proposals to separate local law enforcement from the responsibility off immigration enforcement.
“It’s important that cities like … Honolulu stand with immigrants,” Caballero said.
“Not only are many of us immigrants, but also many of us come from families that have mixed immigration status,” he said.
But Honolulu resident Gerry Smith, who submitted written testimony opposing the bill, said in an interview he found it “offensive” and worried it would handcuff the police department and prevent it from enforcing the rule of law.
Smith said that it’s important for local authorities to aid federal agents in detaining illegal immigrants.
“A lot of people think, ‘Well, it’s just my cousin Bob, and he’s a nice guy,’” Smith said. “But he’s violating the law.”
Smith said cooperation with federal customs agencies makes Honolulu safer.
Caballero, however, said that separating immigration from local law enforcement actually helps the police department maintain safety by mitigating immigrants’ fear of police and making it more likely they will cooperate with law enforcement.
“All of those people would be much less likely to help the police unless we make sure that the police has clear rules that they need to follow when it comes to immigration enforcement,” Caballero said.
Smith said he feared that if the measure passes, the federal government would clamp down on Honolulu and begin to restrict the city’s access to federal funds.
“If a city doesn’t want to follow federal rules, then there should be some penalties for that,” Smith said. “You can’t be a rogue city in the United States.”
Caballero said he was not worried about Honolulu losing federal funding because President Donald Trump’s previous attempts to punish sanctuary cities have been rebuffed in court.
“The 10th amendment to the Constitution prohibits the federal government from forcing or coercing cities and towns to implement federal law,” Caballero said.” And that’s exactly what the Trump administration has been trying to do, unsuccessfully.”
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.
Joel Lau is a Civil Beat summer news intern. He grew up on Oahu and graduated from Hawaii Baptist Academy.
He is a student at Boston University, majoring in journalism and political science, and plans to return there for his sophomore year in September. Follow him on Twitter @JoelLau808.