The lack of attorneys living in Hawaii who are willing to allocate pro bono hours to those in need is having a detrimental effect on those asylum-seeking immigrants, officials said earlier last week. According to Hawaii Public Radio, there are at least 150 asylum seekers from Central America who have made it all the way to Hawaii — after all, why go to California or Texas when you can be assimilated into an even nicer state?
But then again, pro bono lawyers are swarming the United States border with Mexico to ensure that migrants’ rights are being protected. But that isn’t the case in Hawaii, said John Egan of the Refugee and Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Hawaii Law School. These migrants from countries like Honduras and Guatemala have limited English-speaking skills, and officials don’t necessarily know what to do with them.
Egan has helped at least a dozen by giving his time pro bono, and we commend him for that.
But more needs to be done for these people, who mostly fled from violence in their home countries. Immigration is nothing new for Hawaii residents, almost one in five of whom immigrated from other countries themselves. In fact, the vast majority of the state population is made up of either immigrants, or children whose parents were immigrants.
The vast majority of Hawaii’s immigrant population hails from the Philippines (nearly half of the state’s immigrants), while most of the rest are from China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Most immigrants living in Hawaii are now naturalized. But there are also a number of undocumented individuals living in the state as well. 45,000 people, at least (18 percent of the total immigrant population).
At least 300 individuals who qualified for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) benefits are now residents of Hawaii.
Over the past few years, Hawaii’s population has stabilized (after growing by about 100,000 people since 2010) and even started to decline. This trend has led to widespread concern that Hawaii will turn into the next Puerto Rico, a United States territory that has seen is population plummet in the wake of increasingly devastating natural disasters. These trends are at least in part due to lower rates of legal immigration — which is the direct result of a Trump presidency.
Another reason is due to past residents simply moving away (most college-aged kids and senior citizens). This is likely because of the skyrocketing cost of living. It’s also another good reason why we should be fighting hard to help asylum-seeking migrants and other immigrants who want to move to Hawaii — we need them, if for no other reason than to help stabilize the economy!