home Commentary, Current Affairs, North America Why Hawai‘i is the Right State to Be Leading the Charge Against Trump’s Travel Ban

Why Hawai‘i is the Right State to Be Leading the Charge Against Trump’s Travel Ban

On Wednesday, March 8, Hawai‘i was the first state to file a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s revised travel ban.

The lawsuit argues that the revised ban will unconstitutionally discriminate against Muslims in the state of Hawai‘i. Furthermore, the restriction of travel by tourists and foreign-born residents will not only hurt the state’s businesses and universities, but more than anything, it will cause undue suffering to Muslims, and families with relatives overseas.

As stated in The Guardian, Hawai‘i attorney general Doug Chin said: “Hawaii is special in that it has always been non-discriminatory in both its history and constitution. Twenty percent of the people are foreign-born, 100,000 are non-citizens and 20 percent of the labour force is foreign-born.” 

While the revised executive order exempts those with dual U.S. citizenship, green cards, and valid visas from restriction, the ban still affects citizens of the majority-Muslim countries of Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen – Iraq is no longer on the list. Individuals from those places will be blocked from receiving a new visa, and a general ban on refugees(instead of only those from Syria) for 120 days has been instated. Though the revised ban omits preference for religious minority refugees (Christians), the ban still squarely takes aim at Muslims.

As reported by the New York Times, Chin said, “This order brings back memories for a lot of people here. Any time you have an executive order or some government decision that’s calling out people by their nation of origin or by religion, we’ve got to be a check against that.” 

Indeed, the travel ban, “revised” or not, flies in the face of everything the state of Hawai‘i stands for. With people of Asian descent making up the majority of the state’s population (approximately 37 percent as of 2015), and 23 percent of the population being of mixed race (as of 2015), memories of the injustices America has inflicted upon American minorities (including Hawaii’s own Native people) are still fresh in the minds of most locals.

America is turning its ire toward Muslims now, but not not so long ago it was Japanese Americans during the Japanese internment of World War II. Though not all Japanese Americans were incarcerated at the camp in Honouliuli in Waipahu on the island of Oahu – doing so would have destroyed the Hawaiian economic and cultural infrastructure due to approximately one third of Hawaii’s residents being of Japanese descent – community leaders, Japanese educated Japanese Americans, and religious leaders were collected. 

In a community where Japanese Americans make up not only a major part of the population, but also the cultural landscape (Japanese words pepper English and Pidgin communication on the islands), the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII may be clearer in the state’s collective memory than nearly any other state in the country.

Go back another almost-50 years from Japanese American internment, and you have the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act. When Hawai‘i became a U.S. territory in 1900, the act, put into place on the U.S. mainland in 1882, barred Chinese immigration into Hawai‘i. Chinese immigrants were only allowed to enter Hawai‘i under special exemption.

The act significantly decreased the formerly significant Chinese population of workers, and in effect created a racialized system of “importing” Asian (mostly Japanese, but also Filipino and Korean) and Portuguese laborers to work on plantations. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 – the same year the Honouliuli internment camp was built. 

As a state where the majority population is made up of people who were at one time or another discriminated against or betrayed by the U.S., Hawai‘i has a unique perspective on immigration and foreign residents. Especially sensitive to bullies with power in the U.S. government, Hawai‘ian people are not afraid to stand up to Trump and his administration.

The Woman’s March on Washington, on the day of Trump’s inauguration, was started by Teresa Shook, a Maui resident. After Trump’s win in November, Shook took to Facebook in frustration, inviting 40 of her friends to march on Washington with her. Soon 10,000 people wanted to march with her, and more and more. The rest is history.

Former Hawaii house minority leader, and soon to be former Republican, Rep. Beth Fukumoto spoke out against Trump being a “bully” at the January 21 Women’s March in Honolulu. Due to her refusal to stand behind the Republican party’s president, as well as her comments at the Women’s March, Fukumoto was ousted as the minority leader of the state’s House of Representatives.

A former “rising star” in Hawaii’s small Republican Party, 33-year-old Fukumoto said during the House floor session to remove her as leader, “I believe it is our job as Americans and as leaders of this body to criticize power when power is wrong.”

In a press release concerning her removal Fukumoto said:

In the last couple years, I’ve watched leaders in the Republican Party become less and less tolerant of diverse opinions and dissenting voices. Today, I’m facing demands for my resignation from leadership and possible censure because I raised concerns about our President’s treatment of women and minorities. I’ve been asked by both my party and my caucus to commit to not criticizing the president for the remainder of his term and to take a more partisan approach to working in the Legislature. That is not a commitment I can make.

She went on to say, “This morning, I sent a letter to my district explaining that I would like to leave the Republican Party and seek membership in the Democratic Party.”

Though Hawai‘i may have one of the smallest populations in the U.S. (ranking 40th out of 51 in population size as of the 2016 census, California being number one with the largest population), Hawai‘i has been outspoken in its resistance to Trump.

And now other states are following suit. At the time of this writing, Washington State, has filed a similar lawsuit joined by Oregon, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, California, and Massachusetts. Additionally, Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia have filed an amicus brief to support Hawai‘i in the lawsuit against the ban.

But it seems fitting that Hawai‘i is leading the charge.

When Trump appointed alt-right grand wizard Steve Bannon to be his chief strategist and counselor, Senator Mazie Hirono joined other Democrats in protesting Bannon’s appointment. In a statement that was especially important coming from the minority-majority state representative with an immigrant background, Hirono said, “I represent the state of Hawaii, one of the most racially and culturally diverse states in the entire country, and since the election I have said that we should judge the president-elect by his actions and decisions. Presidents send clear messages about their intentions by who they appoint to senior positions and the appointment of Steve Bannon is a pretty clear message to us. What Steve Bannon believes is not a mystery — he has demeaned women, advocated for white supremacy and promoted anti-Semitism.”

Hirono went on to say, “Quite frankly, it is sad that we are having a debate about whether a white supremacist should serve as a senior counselor to the president elect.”

No doubt, a challenge to minority rights and freedoms feels personal to Hawai‘i.

Photo: Teemu008/Creative Commons


Louise Hung

An American writer living in Japan, Louise is a contributor and researcher for the Order of the Good Death and Ask a Mortician. You can find her on Twitter @LouiseHung1.