The Legal Clinic (TLC) provides confidential, compassionate and free immigration legal services to financially-eligible immigrants in Hawaiʻi, including COFA immigrants (from the Pacific islands nations of greater Micronesia, here through the Compacts of Free Association treaty). TLC also works closely with other immigrant-led and -serving organizations in advocacy and organizing. In particular, it has led an informal coalition called the Hawai‘i Coalition for Immigrant Rights united in advocacy and education for equal justice and community inclusion for immigrants.
Here's the Issue:
Hawai‘i’s state and local governments continually overlook their immigrant communities, leading to economic, political, and linguistic marginalization. Immigrants in Hawai‘i come from a wide range of countries—mostly Asian and Pacific Island nations—and speak many different languages. The diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages are both a tremendous strength—adding richness to the state—and also a great challenge to community organizing and advocating for the needs of immigrant groups, particularly as some in the community may try to pit different immigrant groups against others. Many of these marginalized communities have organized themselves over the years and made their own voices heard, but the state’s shortcomings have persisted. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has come into sharp focus. First, rates of COVID-19 in API immigrant communities, particularly Pacific Islander communities, were disproportionally high. Second, state language access failures resulted in civil rights denials and the inability to access safety net benefits. Finally, the recently published New American Economy (NAE) report found that Honolulu ranked 95 out of 100 in immigrant integration policies.
The creation of a statewide immigrant advocacy coalition would address this issue by bringing the relevant stakeholders, grassroots leaders, service providers into regular discussion, unifying the voices of these communities that have not yet worked together. Hawai‘i has not had an immigrant-led and -serving organization that unites across immigrant groups and islands through a focus on building power through grassroots organizing, training youth, and flexing legislative campaign muscle across immigrant groups. In the wake of COVID, many task forces that temporarily brought these populations together will be disbanded. By continuing to gather them and pursue training, we will build on the lessons learned from the last year and raise a new generation of immigrant AA and PI leaders that can embrace their own uniqueness and power.
We're the right people to do the work because:
TLC has worked closely with other immigrant-led and -serving organizations over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic to 1) advocate for more inclusive state and local policies, particularly around language access, 2) provide COVID-19 relief services, and 3) promote indigent access to immigration legal services. In this work, TLC has worked with immigrants from many different immigrant communities, who speak different languages, and has collaborated with volunteers and partners across generations. TLC is the go-to non-profit in the state without federal funding restrictions working for immigrant justice in Hawai‘i.