Hawaii pushes back against presidential immigration order

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KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii’s native Middle-Eastern and Muslim populations represent only a small faction of its overall demographic, but President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration has inspired backlash among politicians, lawyers and residents of the state — both from those who identify as Muslim and those who don’t.

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KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii’s native Middle-Eastern and Muslim populations represent only a small faction of its overall demographic, but President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration has inspired backlash among politicians, lawyers and residents of the state — both from those who identify as Muslim and those who don’t.

The order, signed by the president Friday afternoon, blocked any citizen of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for a period of 90 days. The most commonly practiced religion in all of those countries is Islam.

The order also suspended the entry of refugees to the U.S. from any country for a 120-day period, while imposing an indefinite ban on the entry of Syrian refugees.

While no language in the Executive Order expressly states the temporary action is a ban on Muslims, several prominent members of the Aloha State say it can’t be viewed as anything but.

“Donald Trump can deny it all he wants, but we understand him loud and clear,” Hawaii Sen. Mazie K. Hirono said in a press release Sunday. “This is a Muslim ban, and it’s deeply wrong.”

Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii made similar comments after his office announced Monday public support for legislation introduced by Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut that would block the president’s order, declaring it illegal based on the stipulations set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

“This executive order is immoral and antithetical to our history and our values, and I will do everything I can to try to reverse it,” Schatz said in a press release. “The world is watching. History is watching. And we have to ask ourselves — what do they see? Do they see Lady Liberty? Or do they see something darker? The choice is ours. We can fix this.”

Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii took a different approach to solving the problem — stop contributing to situations that create refugees in the first place.

“The most humane, compassionate thing we can do to help refugees is to stop fueling the chaos and carnage that is forcing people to flee their homes in search of peace and security,” Gabbard said Monday in an email to the WHT. “That means ending the destructive U.S. policy of counterproductive regime change wars, as we’ve seen most recently in Iraq, Libya, and now in Syria.”

But refugees are still fleeing war-torn areas all over the world, and the order issued by President Trump also creates barriers for immigrants not classified as such.

Mateo Caballero, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, said his organization was not aware of anyone being detained because of the Executive Order either at Honolulu International Airport or Kona International Airport — the only two international airports in the state.

Caballero said the ACLU has asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to confirm the existence of detainees in Hawaii one way or the other, but said that office had yet to make a definitive statement on the inquiry as of Monday afternoon.

“The answer is, we don’t know,” he said. “But we haven’t heard anything.”

Several attempts by the WHT to reach a duty officer line at the U.S. Customs and Border Control Station in Hawaii were unsuccessful. No phone calls were answered, and a message was left but was not returned.

Gov. David Ige issued a statement on Sunday in an effort to reassure those who were unsettled by the immigration policies coming out of Washington.

“I have been in contact with Attorney General Doug Chin regarding several orders issued by the federal courts in the last 24 hours,” Ige said. “We believe these orders apply to all U.S. international airports, including those in Honolulu and Kona, and expect legal travelers to this country to be welcomed in Hawaii without being detained unlawfully by the federal government.”

Caballero said, however, the ACLU of Hawaii is still concerned that some residents of state may be stuck abroad — those with visas or other documentation that should allow them re-entry into the U.S., but who can’t get back to their loved ones in Hawaii because of the president’s decree.

He said further that his office had been contacted by several foreign nationals of the countries in question who are concerned about leaving the U.S. for purposes of travel and being denied re-entry — a policy he said is isolating family units spanning international borders.

Caballero went on to condemn the Executive Order as an attack on the aloha spirit and civil rights history of “the most diverse state in the United States.”

“People in Hawaii know firsthand the terrible consequences of judging people by their countries of origin and not by any actions they’ve taken,” he said, referencing organized resistance in Hawaii during World War II to the seizing of all Japanese and Japanese-Americans as threats to the state.

“We are a nation of immigrants, a nation of refugees. We’ve always been a refuge for people fleeing violence in their countries. We always aspire to treat people equally, no matter where they come from, no matter who they worship, no matter how they look. Those values are in our Constitution. Religious liberty, due process, equal protection under the law — those are foundational commitments we made to ourselves in the Constitution.”

Caballero said the ACLU is prepared to stand up and fight for those commitments that define the U.S. as a nation, and called on the people of Hawaii to do the same.

John Egan, an immigration attorney, witnessed what he guessed were between 100 and 200 of Hawaii’s residents doing just that at a protest outside Honolulu International Airport Sunday.

“It was boisterous, but well-contained and pretty congenial,” he said.

Egan added he, too, has been contacted by more than one Hawaiian resident expressing concern and trying to get ahead of potential challenges to their rights to live in America and to travel freely without fear of being unlawfully isolated from their loved ones.

According to migrationpolicy.org, roughly a quarter million residents of Hawaii in 2014 were foreign-born, up more than 38,000 from 2000.

Of those, only 0.9 percent were of racial origins other than white, black, Asian, native American Indian or Alaskan, and native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Despite the small tally, Caballero said, the issue is still relevant to Hawaii.

“Even if it’s a small number of people, these are members of our community,” he said. “It matters.”

Several members of the small group of foreign-born Muslims both Egan and Caballero referenced are part of the student-body at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where Dr. Tamara Albertini serves as a professor of Philosophy and the director of the Undergraduate Certificate in Islamic Studies.

Over the weekend, she received several emails from students asking particularly about international travel, as they now feel more isolated from their families who live half a world away.

Albertini added the Executive Order has become another line item on a long list of aspects of American life as a Muslim that make those who identify as such feel like “the other.”

That’s especially true for Muslim women, she explained.

“I haven’t seen any anger, but a lot of concerns. It’s particularly hard on the women if they are veiled, because your identity is clearly visible,” she said, adding that those women now expect comments or inquiries about whether or not they will leave the country, or if they are afraid to stay. “(It signals to them) ‘I’m different, and I obviously look it.’”

Nazeehah Khan, 23, a Muslim born in Hawaii who served as president of the UH-Manoa Islamic Society before graduating with a degree in political science in 2015, said concern and alienation for her began months before the Executive Order was signed.

“My reaction when Donald Trump was elected was fear,” she said. “When this started to actually happen, and he started to actually act on those things he said he was going to act on, it was a mixture of fear that turned into anger. It’s upsetting to know that our efforts to try to bridge the gap between the American public and Muslims who live in America kind of went in vain because of what he did to further distance us from each other.”

Khan’s family, which she said is mostly Indian and originate from Fiji, are not directly affected by the immigration policy.

But, she explained, other students and friends of hers are less concerned with getting kicked out of the U.S. — or leaving it and being unable to return — than with what they’ll face if they stay.

“They’re more confused than concerned,” Khan said. “They’ve come to this country with a certain idea of what it’s going to be like, and then to know the country is acting this way toward people they identify with — they’re more just concerned about what’s going to happen to them while they’re here.”

Khan acknowledged Americanism is subjective, but to her, the president’s order was the opposite of American. The protests in the aftermath of it, the kindness of her friends offering their support if things go bad — that’s her definition of Americanism.

But not everyone necessarily agrees.

Phillip Keuhlen, a semi-retired consultant in the nuclear industry who has lived on Hawaii Island since June, took exception with the characterization of the Executive Order on immigration as a Muslim ban.

In his opinion, most people don’t understand the order or understand that in the short-term, it will make the country safer.

He said the hardships some legal, foreign-born residents may face — either trying to remain in or return to the U.S. — may be necessary to protect against terroristic threats.

“I think reasonable people can disagree on that, but within my perspective, that is a reasonable trade-off,” he said.

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But Bronsten Kossow, a Big Island native and a college student who ran unsuccessfully for Kona’s District 6 seat in the Hawaii House of Representatives, said perspectives like Keuhlen’s aren’t just anti-Hawaiian, but anti-American.

“We are all immigrants here to this land, so it is not an American thing to do,” he said. “American ideals are to accept. We had immigrants from Italy, from Ireland. So the notion of the immigration policy being put in place now — I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. It should be that concept of aloha … It’s acceptance. And the United States should be the example throughout the world.”

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