Hawaiʻi and Undocumented Immigrants: Part 1

Jun 29, 2017

Credit Wikipedia

The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are about 21,000 undocumented immigrants living in Hawai‘i. The PEW Research Center says this number could be as high as 45,000.  HPR contributing reporter Jackie Young begins a series of reports, looking at who the undocumented immigrants are in our state, and how new federal immigration policies are affecting them.

Undocumented immigration statistics for Hawai‘i are sparse—because by definition the population is untracked—but what numbers there are don’t show much change over the past few years.

Approximately 40 percent of the undocumented immigrants in Hawaiʻi are Filipino, according to Amy Agbayani, of the Filipino-American Advocacy Network.

“Filipinos have been the largest group of migrants ever since 1965, when the law was changed. Filipinos in Hawaiʻi were able to ask for their relatives, were able to get married to people, and the 2nd part of that immigration amendment was that the United States needed certain people in the workforce.”

And contrary to what some believe, undocumented immigrants do contribute to our economy.

“They’re about 4.6 percent of the workforce—undocumented people—in the state of Hawaiʻi.  One estimate is that they pay about $51 million in state and local taxes.  That includes state income taxes, and it includes property taxes, as well as sales taxes.”

A recent report by PEW Research Center says immigrants are crucial to the U.S. workforce, because there’re not enough young Americans to replace retiring baby boomers.

Credit Amy Agbayani

Do you feel undocumented immigrants take away the jobs from Americans?

Agbayani:  There are many jobs that go without anyone applying for them because they are the kind of jobs that many Hawaiʻi-born or U.S.-born citizens don’t want.  And secondly, I think that there are actually like for example some of the high-tech industry people really are lobbying Congress all the time to get more visas for high-tech people because America doesn’t have that kind of skilled workforce. … So they’re not taking away any jobs, because they’re trying to get U.S.-born people to take those jobs, but they are not trained for them.

Anecdotal reports say a disproportionate number of undocumented immigrants end up as agricultural workers on the Big Island and Maui.  Yet others claim many undocumented immigrants here have been successful in business.

John Kawamoto
Credit Jackie Young

How do immigrants become undocumented?

John Kawamoto is a former legislative analyst for the state House Majority Staff Office.  “There’re two ways that immigrants can be undocumented, and the first is crossing the border without being processed, and that is a misdemeanor.  Multiple violations, though, make it a felony.  But more common in Hawai‘i is the second way that immigrants can be undocumented.  And that’s by entering the country with a visa, but overstaying the visa.  And that’s not a crime—it’s a civil matter.”

More significant to Kawamoto, though, is that most immigrants in the U.S. have already established roots.  “Two-thirds of the adult undocumented immigrants have been in the United States for 10 years or more.  So that means many have married U.S. citizens, and many more have children who are U.S. citizens by birth.”

In our next report, we’ll take a look at one undocumented immigrant and his dilemma.