WHO ARE THE UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS?
They are people who either crossed the border without being processed, which is a misdemeanor, or they came to the U.S. with a visa, but overstayed their visa, which is not a crime.
HOW MANY UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS ARE THERE?
There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and an estimated 21,000 undocumented immigrants in Hawai‘i. Nearly half of Hawaii’s undocumented immigrants are from the Philippines, about 15% are from Japan, and most of the rest are from other Asian countries.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS?
Many have come from economically distressed countries to make better lives for themselves. Nationally, two-thirds of the undocumented immigrants who are adults have been in our country for 10 years or more. Many have married U.S. citizens or have children who are U.S. citizens by birth. They live and work in our communities, pay taxes, and have a crime rate that is much lower than that of native-born citizens.
WHY DON’T UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS APPLY FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCY?
Permanent immigration to the U.S. is generally limited to reasons of family reunification, employment, or humanitarian protection, each of which is subject to strict eligibility requirements. Most unauthorized immigrants do not have the required family relationships or employment relationships, and most are ineligible for humanitarian protection, such as refugee status.
WHO ARE THE DREAMERS?
They are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, usually with their parents. They have lived in the U.S. for most of their lives, and enrolled in President Obama’s DACA program (Deferred Acceptance for Childhood Arrivals). The program allows them to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, along with eligibility for a work permit. However, the Trump administration recently announced that DACA would be rescinded after six months.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE DREAMERS NOW?
Ultimately, they stand to be deported unless Congress passes a law that codifies DACA or something similar to it. A Dream Act is being considered by Congress that would create a pathway to citizenship for those who were brought to the U.S. as children as long as they satisfy educational requirements and have not committed serious crimes, among other requirements.
WHAT IS PRESIDENT TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDER THAT APPLIES TO IMMIGRANTS?
President Trump has signed two executive orders that apply to immigrants, one which applies to immigrants coming into the country, and the other which applies to undocumented immigrants who are already living in the U.S. The former – Trump’s travel ban – has received substantial news coverage. Now in its third iteration, the travel ban has been challenged in federal courts, but the Supreme Court has temporarily allowed it to go into effect without ruling on it while cases are proceeding through the lower courts.
WHAT DOES THE SECOND EXECUTIVE ORDER DO?
President Trump’s second executive order targets all undocumented immigrants for deportation. By comparison, President Obama also deported undocumented immigrants, but he focused on those who had committed serious crimes. President Trump’s executive order makes no such distinction.
DOES THE SECOND EXECUTIVE ORDER DO ANYTHING ELSE?
Yes, it also encourages county police departments to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agencies, for example, by deputizing police officers to act as immigration agents. Most legal experts say that such cooperation is voluntary. Hundreds of cities, counties, and states believe that such cooperation makes their communities less safe. For example, when police officers act as immigration agents, undocumented immigrants fear contact with them due to the threat of deportation. As a result, they fear reporting crimes or coming forth as witnesses to crimes.
WHAT CAN WE IN HAWAI‘I DO TO RESTRICT COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENTS FROM COOPERATING WITH FEDERAL IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES?
The State and the various counties of Hawai‘i may declare that they are “sanctuary” jurisdictions. This does not mean that they protect undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. In this case, sanctuary means that county police departments and other local law enforcement agencies do not cooperate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and other federal immigration enforcement agencies.
ARE THERE ANY DRAWBACKS FROM BEING A SANCTUARY COUNTY OR STATE?
The Trump administration has threatened to withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, counties, and states. However, most legal experts say that the grants must be closely related to immigration enforcement, and such grants are relatively small. Several sanctuary cities and counties have filed lawsuits against the federal government to prevent the withholding of federal grants when they comply with the conditions of the grants.
ARE THERE ANY EFFORTS TO MAKE HAWAI‘I A SANCTUARY STATE OR TO MAKE ANY OF THE COUNTIES SANCTUARY COUNTIES?
The State Legislature recently adopted HR76, which declares Hawai‘i to be a “Hookipa (Welcoming) State.” In addition, the Honolulu City Council recently adopted Resolution 17-50, which declares Honolulu to be a “Haven of Aloha.” Both resolutions seek to prohibit county police and other local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement agencies. However, resolutions do not have the force of law. Immigration advocates intend to build on these successes by having bills introduced in the State Legislature and the various counties, which would become law when passed.
WHAT CAN I DO TO SUPPORT HAWAI‘I TO BECOME A SANCTUARY STATE OR ANY OF THE COUNTIES TO BECOME A SANCTUARY COUNTY?
1. Contact your State Senator and Representative and your county councilmember. They listen closely to their constituents. Tell them that you support sanctuary status for the state/county. 2. Sign a petition to ask Governor David Ige to Declare Hawai‘i a Sanctuary State!
WHAT CAN I DO TO SUPPORT DREAMERS?
ARE THERE ANY EFFORTS TO CREATE SPACES FOR UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS WHERE THEY WILL BE SAFE FROM DEPORTATION?
The Interfaith Alliance of Hawai‘i has begun to organize and encourage churches and other religious organizations to create safe spaces for undocumented immigrants. Legally, federal immigration enforcement agents may enter the grounds of religious organizations to arrest undocumented immigrants, but in practice they generally avoid it. Nationally, the number of religious organizations offering refuge has doubled in the past 10 months.