Hawaii filed a challenge in federal court to President Donald Trump’s new executive order on refugee and migrant entry to the U.S. Wednesday, though the state has a dismal track record on refugee resettlement.
“If a new order still discriminates against persons based upon national origins, violates our nation’s freedom of religion, or otherwise violates the Constitution, the State of Hawaii and its people must oppose it,” state Attorney General Doug Chin said, in advance of the second order’s promulgation.
It’s commitment to free movement of refugees notwithstanding, during fiscal year 2015, the state accepted all of seven refugees, according to data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Only one jurisdiction, the District of Columbia, accepted fewer.
During that period, one of the state’s refugees came from Ukraine, one came from China, and five came from Burma. None came from war-torn communities in the Middle East, where migrant resettlement has proved most controversial.
It did not perform better in other years where data was available. The state accepted two refugees during 2014, six in 2013, and only one in 2012.
There are a number of reasons why Hawaii is not an attractive site for refugee resettlement that are unrelated to whatever migrant policies it might wish to pursue. In the first place, it’s geographic isolation makes large-scale resettlement logistically unfeasible. In addition, the state has a comparatively high cost of living, which may make it prohibitively expensive for a migrant family. This, in turn, creates an environment in which poor Hawaiians depend on some of the largest public assistance packages in the country, though studies to this effect have been disputed.
Still, the state leading the legal fight against the president’s revised executive order will almost certainly not play a major role in refugee relocation going forward, and hopes to play a major role in shaping resettlement policy through the legal process.
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