PERSONAL SENSE OF DUTY. Hawai‘i attorney general Douglas Chin
sits in his office in Honolulu. Hawai‘i was the first state to
file a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s revised
travel ban. For Chin, the son of Chinese immigrants, fighting
the travel ban is personal. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #7 (April 3, 2017), page
Travel ban fight personal for Hawai‘i’s
By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
The Associated Press
HONOLULU — Growing up in Washington state, Douglas Chin says
he was the stereotypical "smart Chinese kid that got straight
As." His parents taught him not to stick out too much and used
to say "don’t poke the lion."
So when Chin, now the Hawai‘i attorney general, was deciding
on whether to challenge the Trump administration’s latest travel
ban, he understood those who said it wasn’t the state’s fight.
But the Stanford University-educated lawyer stepped into the
spotlight, making Hawai‘i the first state to challenge President
Trump’s revised travel ban — and convince a federal judge to
temporarily block it before it took effect.
His motivation was personal, he said. Chin said he felt as if
he was invisible during his time in an overwhelmingly white
suburban Seattle high school, and wanted to fight for an
invisible minority in Hawai‘i: Muslims.
"It really hits home with me," he said. "It worries me about
this society and what’s happening."
Before his appointment as attorney general, Chin, 50, was
Honolulu’s managing director (who would serve as acting mayor
when the mayor was out of town) and a prosecutor. People who
know and worked with him say he is nice, smart, and a fast
Some, however, criticized him for challenging the travel ban.
"Let’s allow the big states with more resources to fight this
issue," Republican state representative Gene Ward said in a
statement. "My sense is that the people of Hawai‘i would rather
see potholes fixed rather than trying to lead the nation against
an executive order."
Those who have worked with Chin say the reason he is fighting
the ban is simple: He’s kind.
Jean Ireton was a fellow Honolulu prosecutor with Chin, who
started out in traffic court. He had "some of the toughest, most
god-awful trials that we had there," she said.
Those kinds of cases showed her the worst in humanity, she
said, but Chin didn’t see them that way: "He’s just a kinder
person than I am. I don’t have as much faith in people as he
Ireton and Chin have differing views on the travel ban. "I do
have a problem with the amount of vetting they’re able to do in
those countries," she said. "Doug sees it from a people
perspective. He sees it from people who are suffering."
U.S. district judge Derrick Watson blocked the federal
government from enforcing its ban on travel from six mostly
Muslim countries and its suspension of the nation’s refugee
The judge agreed with Hawai‘i that the travel ban amounts to
discrimination based on nationality and religion.
Trump called the ruling an example of "unprecedented judicial
overreach" and called his new travel ban a watered-down version
of the first one. He said the order was a necessary measure to
prevent terrorists from entering the country.
For Chin, the issue of immigration is a personal one. He is
named after the Christian missionary doctor who sponsored his
Chinese parents’ immigration to Washington state, where Chin was
His middle name Shih-Ging means "scholarly gentleman, which
is weird," Chin said.
"I think that’s where you probably can catch a spark of a
personal sense of duty about this whole travel ban," he said,
describing his parents emigrating in 1957 at a time when U.S.
immigration policy still imposed nation-based quotas.
Chin eventually moved to Honolulu in 1989 as part of a job
transfer with IBM and was exposed to Hawai‘i’s diversity. "All
of a sudden I wasn’t in this place where I felt invisible
anymore, so that was really empowering," he said.
Chin’s career after IBM took him to the University of Hawai‘i
law school and then various stints in the Honolulu prosecutor’s
office and private practice.
On a bookshelf in Chin’s office is a newspaper front page
from a murder conviction he won in 2010. A 15-year-old boy who
was tried as an adult and convicted of murdering his 51-year-old
neighbor is one of Chin’s most memorable cases.
Near the shelf are portraits of Chin’s children and wife, who
is white and from New York. He describes his daughter, 18, and
son, 16, as hapa, a term locals in Hawai‘i use for
Former Honolulu prosecutor and former mayor Peter Carlisle
recalled first meeting him at Chin’s church while Carlisle was
campaigning. Carlisle said he was so impressed with Chin’s
public speaking, he told him to look him up if he ever needed a
Chin attends Oahu Church of Christ, a nondenominational
Christian church that meets in rented spaces at the university
or an elementary school. At church, Chin arranges music and
sings a capella — he has perfect pitch, he notes sheepishly.
He found the time to go to Sunday services the week of the
Honolulu hearing. After the hearing, Chin stopped at his office
and then to Waikiki where he was hosting a meeting of the
Conference of Western Attorneys General because he’s the group’s
Chin has also spent a lot of time giving interviews to news
organizations nationwide about his lawsuit. Part of the reason
he does that is to educate — even those who live in Hawai‘i.
"It’s a no-brainer why we have to object to this. I totally
know how there’s another segment of the population that, to
them, it just doesn’t connect," he said. "What does the Middle
East have to do with Hawai‘i?"
The answer, he said, is Hawai‘i’s some 5,000 Muslims are the
invisible minority and Chin knows first hand what that feels
"People in Hawai‘i don’t know how to process a Muslim other
than what they see on TV," he said.