The process, plus a first-hand account, of becoming a refugee in Hawaii

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Potential refugees go through intensive screening with multiple agencies looking for biographic and biometric information.

With governors across the nation making different statements about who can or can’t come to the the country, KHON2 went to an immigration attorney and asked, “Legally speaking, can anyone prevent a refugee from coming to Hawaii?”

“No,” said Clare Hanusz, immigration attorney with Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert.

Hanusz said the process is very rigorous and can take up to two years.

Agencies will check the name and date of birth of the refugee who’s applying. Officials will also check fingerprints, looking to see if someone has a criminal record or if they’ve applied for a visa elsewhere.

Officials will conduct in-person interviews overseas to confirm the reason why the person is leaving his or her country.

For Syrian refugees, there’s another screening process using Fraud Detection and the National Security Unit.

“It is more difficult for many of the Syrians because a lot of people who fled had to leave paperwork, their own personal documents at home,” Hanusz said.

When refugees arrive here in Hawaii, service providers will help them with a variety of necessities including health, housing and food.

“We have to greet them at the airport. We have to make sure that they make a meal, and a meal that is culturally appropriate,” said Terrina Wong, deputy director of Pacific Gateway Center.

Pacific Gateway Center will check on the refugee on a daily basis, sometimes for up to three months. This is all done to help the refugee become self-sufficient.

“Is the screening and vetting process for refugees enough?” KHON2 asked.

“The screening process is very, very rigorous overseas. I know that through some of the refugees that I worked with,” Hanusz said. “If someone is really dead set on doing harm against the United States, they’re going to find another way to get in.”

The United States refugee program has been running since the mid 1970s, the post-Vietnam-War era. Since then, three million refugees have resettled in the U.S.

Hawaii has a history of taking in refugees — nearly two dozen in just the last decade, according to Gov. David Ige.

Oahu resident Linda Dang was part of a wave of refugees who fled Vietnam in the 1970s. Dang left Vietnam in 1975 and lived in Mobile, Ala. and Houston, Texas before settling in Hawaii.

“We (are) refugees because we want to look for new life. We don’t want to live ‘stuck.’ We want to move on,” explained Dang.

Dang says she felt welcome in Hawaii.

“Don’t look down to no one,” Dang said. “Refugee or not, we come here. We are human. We came here. We’re not here to make terrible.”

Professor James Primm teaches International Relations and Politics of Terrorism at Hawaii Pacific University.

“There’s always the argument that racism will always exist. Even in Hawaii, the Aloha State, there’s an undercurrent. There’s some of that,” Primm said.

Primm says historically Hawaii has “been here before” and the “heat” surrounding Ige’s statement demands discussion.

“Hawaii is an exceptional place where it’s all of us together. We have to work within ourselves,” Primm said. “We need dialogue to interact.”

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