LETTER: Hawai‘i Could Be a Sanctuary to Trump’s Immigration Ban

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Anthony Quintano in Civil Beat made a bold and courageous suggestion that Hawai‘i should consider being a sanctuary city. His article drew passionate comments from both sides. Of course, there are divisions. But I would go even further. Hawai‘i, or least parts of Hawai‘i should exempt itself from the travel ban and become a symbolic sanctuary for those suffering under the travel ban.

It is time to play the stronger “nuclear card” that Hawai‘i has—that because the history of Hawai‘i, particularly the failure of the United States to define the boundaries of Hawai‘i—the question has always existed whether Hawai‘i was wholly subject to U.S. law—the power of the president and the power of federal courts.

Yes, it is true, this is an argument associated with and put forth by Native Hawaiian sovereignty groups—but look closely at their analysis—there is certainly some truth in what they say. The borders of Hawai‘i are defined as “those islands acquired by the Joint resolution.”

Everyone, no matter what side they are on, agrees that such a description of Hawai‘i’s boundaries was flawed and was originally sloppy. Today it gives no guidance as to what islands and waters constitute Hawai‘i. If a unilateral joint resolution was the basis, Hawai‘i was made part of the United States. The power structure of Hawai‘i has ignored this largely Hawaiian argument so far—but what if what put into place in a limited fashion—to rectify an egregious wrong that the world is watching—and what if it was a reflection of the aloha spirit, and what if was the basis for a new identity of Hawai‘i, a new industry built around peace like Switzerland. Most important, we would be informing the world that the future of Hawai‘i, that is the economic future of Hawai‘i is built, not around construction and rail—but being the new Geneva, the new Switzerland.

One must ask how such would legal. The argument for an immigration sanctuary would rely on Hawaiian scholars who have worked endlessly and against the state, that Hawai‘i was never acquired by the United States. But the exemption from U.S. law need not be all-encompassing, the state government could limit to creating a small oasis for Muslims excluded from the U.S.


Of course, the Trump Justice would move immediately to quash Hawai‘i’s move—but the arguments that Trump rules Hawai‘i would be an uphill and long battle for the Trump Administration. Even if Hawai‘i was to lose—it would gain the attention of the world for providing a super-sanctuary no other nation or city would dare.

If Congress alone could make Hawai‘i part of the United States, then a law of Hawai‘i could make the U.S. part of Hawai‘i. If countries could, by a simple law, make another territory of their own—the world would dissolve into chaos. For years, both federal and state governments in Hawai‘i have ignored the Hawaiian sovereignty movement—perhaps because the movement required that all of Hawai‘i become the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

One could take these historical arguments and use it them sparingly only at the airport. Suppose the governor declared that the airport and some areas around it were not subject to Trump’s travel ban—that those stuck in airports or in foreign countries by the ban could come to Hawai‘i—because the governor has declared that a small area of Hawai‘i was a sanctuary to the travel ban?

What if Hawai‘i allowed a few, well-vetted Muslims to come to Hawai‘i as an exception to the travel ban? Hawai‘i, then, would become the “sanctuaries of sanctuaries,” the “Pu‘uhonua” for the world—and establish itself in the eye of the world as unique and special. It would pave the way to the new future, the new industry, and the jobs for our young people, as to the economic and social future of Hawai‘i. Everyone loves to come to Hawai‘i—the most gracious people and most generous place in the world must stand up now—at least temporarily.


We are not in danger from these few vetted immigrants of the Muslim faith. We are the most militarized state in the union—there would be no terrorist attacks. The few we take in may be a housing burden but we are built on the visitor-tourist industry. The vetting rules, the qualifications for entry would be carved and enacted by the state legislature.

We are a compassionate people, all of us, military included—permanent resident Muslims are not a threat to the thousands of troops stationed here. We are the new Statute of Liberty.

Attorney General Doug Chin said Trump immigration ban is illegal and federal courts won’t let it be implemented—given that, what is a stronger case for us taking action—we know it will be struck down—we will not be embarrassed. Moreover, the law is so confused that while it is being litigated should we in Hawai‘i let Muslims relying on the previous immigration laws suffer? This new sanctuary is an emergency action to remedy a humanitarian tragedy.

We might be corralled to obey later—but no one in the world would forget the aloha spirit that is Hawai‘i which lies within us is directed at all people, whoever one worships. If TSA cannot enforce the ban—neither can the FBI, NCIS or military police.


We have the opportunity here to make a statement about our longstanding values of inclusion, aloha and respect for all. We might be corralled to obey later—but not one where the world would forget the aloha spirit that Hawai‘i dared to express in this e enormous instance of human tragedy. Law or not, doesn’t the aloha spirit look to the suffering of real people first?

Finally, we are not deliberately disobeying the law—the law, as Hawaiians say, has disobeyed the international and human rights of Hawaiians. Moreover, the law is so confused that while it is being litigated, should we in Hawai‘i let people suffer? An immigration sanctuary in Hawaii, where we control TSA and immigration is an order the governor can issue—for if Douglas Chin believes the Trump ban is illegal this new sanctuary is an emergency action to remedy a humanitarian tragedy.

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