“We all know what that means.”
That’s what President Trump said on January 27th immediately before he signed the first travel ban executive order. The President slowly, carefully read the official title from the document itself, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” He peered intently at the paper as he did so. Then he looked up to the audience and said, without the aid of notes and without hesitation, “we all know what that means.”
We certainly did. It meant President Trump was carrying out his campaign promise to impose a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Period. Hard stop.
States including Hawaii immediately sought justice in court to block this illegal and unconstitutional betrayal of American values. Since then, Hawaii has continued its fight because the Trump administration keeps appealing – and keeps losing. Recently, for example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed the Trump administration’s attempts to subject grandmothers to the Muslim ban. The argument on the merits happens next month when Hawaii goes before the United States Supreme Court to argue that the executive order violates the federal Immigration and Nationality Act and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
We have both been asked why this is so important to Hawaii, and why we personally care so deeply about this. The answer to these questions is the same: The executive order is contrary to everything Hawaii is and strives to be.
It’s important to Hawaii because discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, or religion goes against the very essence of what makes Hawaii – and America – such a special place. It’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional, and it’s wrong.
We personally care so much about this because we are the children and grandchildren of immigrants. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are the targets of this discriminatory order, but we have been the targets in the past. Just two examples are the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. We felt compelled to stand up and be counted opposing this latest attack on pluralism, diversity, and inclusion.
We decided together that as a state, we have a unique capability to serve as a check on the federal government and reestablish the rule of law against a lawless president.
From the sugar plantations of years past to our 600 DACA residents today, Hawaii’s story has been shaped by immigrants. George and Elise Chin left China in 1957 and settled in Seattle. Their son would move to Hawaii and eventually become Attorney General of the state. Nio and Ushi Ige came from Okinawa, Japan and moved to Hawaii in the early 1900’s. They built a life and a family here and their grandson would eventually be elected Governor of the state. We know from personal experience that Hawaii has a proud history of welcoming immigrants into our community. And we learned a long time ago that when people of diverse backgrounds come together, we accomplish great things. President Kennedy said in 1963 that Hawaii “represents all that we are and all that we hope to be.”
But we in Hawaii – one of the only majority minority states in the country – know firsthand what happens when prejudice overcomes reason. On February 19, 1942, just a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 went into effect from Washington. The text of the order did not say the purpose was to imprison Japanese Americans. It did not say anything on its face about racial discrimination. The stated purpose of the order was that “the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities.”
But as President Trump might say, we all know what that meant.
It meant the federal government would use the order to exclude and imprison over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry. The majority of these people were American citizens. Think of it: the federal government imprisoned American citizens whose only offense was being ethnically Japanese. And for the record, no cases of espionage or sabotage by Japanese Americans were ever recorded during World War II. Not one.
Yet almost 2,000 people of Japanese ancestry were interned in our state. Hawaii’s Honouliuli Internment Camp is now a national monument. When President Obama established it, then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel came to Hawaii and called the camp “America’s secret shame.”
You’d think that the federal government would have learned its lesson. Sadly, it hasn’t. Indeed, President Trump’s advisors continue to argue that his decisions are not subject to review. They argue that his statements that “Islam hates us,” that he would “strongly consider” closing mosques, and that we should have a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country should be ignored. We beg to differ, and the courts agree with us. As Hawaii federal district court Judge Derrick K. Watson said when he granted Hawaii’s motion to block the Muslim ban, “the Court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters down, and pretend it has not seen what it has.”
Neither will we. What we have seen has only strengthened our resolve to stand up at this moment. Japanese Americans interned during World War II told us similar stories when describing that time. Some didn’t agree with the internment order but believed in their country and therefore went along with it. It wasn’t the internment itself that stung the most. Even worse was that as they were hurried out of their homes, often permitted only to carry a suitcase of their belongings, their neighbors watched – but said nothing. It was that sense of abandonment that made them feel truly alone.
That could not be allowed to happen again. And it hasn’t. State attorneys general and governors from coast to coast stood up against this un-American discrimination, as did many members of Congress. Lawyers crowded airports after the first Muslim ban to represent people who didn’t know if they could enter the country. Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens across the country protested the Muslim ban on the streets and on social media. At the very least we have shown that the targets of this discriminatory executive order are not alone.
President Trump said after we blocked his second Muslim ban that it made America look weak. He couldn’t be more wrong. It showed the strength of the American system. It showed that David Ige – an Okinawan-American governor, Doug Chin – a Chinese-American attorney general, and Neal Katyal – himself the son of Indian immigrants, could go to court, make a case, and show that even the “most powerful man in the world” is subject to checks and balances, the rule of law, and the United States Constitution. It showed that our great American experiment is still working. And it showed that even “an island in the Pacific” can take a stand that would protect the rights of Americans from sea to shining sea.
The first generation of immigrants from Japan had a saying: kodomo no tame ni. It means, “for the sake of the children.” That’s why this is important. That’s why we’re doing this. The whole world is watching.
And we all know what that means.