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Thursday, Feb. 26, 2009

Deadline nears for Filipino family


Staff writer

Opponents of the deportation order against an undocumented Filipino family in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, are mounting a last-ditch effort to win a reversal.

Unless their provisional release is re-extended, the family — Arlan Calderon, 36, his wife, Sarah, 38, both undocumented, and their Japan-born daughter, Noriko, 13 — will have to leave Japan by Friday.

Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Ritsuo Hosokawa, a strong candidate for justice minister if the DPJ comes to power in the next election, urged the Justice Ministry to allow the family to stay.

"If I were justice minister, I would do my best to allow them stay in Japan," Hosokawa told The Japan Times on Tuesday. Though he would like to see the family given special permission to reside here, Hosokawa, the justice chief in the DPJ's shadow Cabinet, stressed that it is not the formal position of the DPJ's judicial committee.

Hosokawa lambasted Justice Minister Eisuke Mori for his decision Feb. 13 to deny the parents permission to remain in Japan. Arlan and Sarah entered the country in the early 1990s on other people's passports. Their daughter, who was born and raised in Japan, does not speak Filipino.

The decision allows only Noriko, effectively a Japanese native, to stay on "humanitarian" grounds, although it means splitting up the family, an option they have ruled out.

In ordering them to leave, the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau gave them an extra two weeks to prepare.

"I want to study hard to realize my dream (of opening a dance school with a friend)," Noriko told reporters on Feb. 10. "I need my family with me in Japan for that, so I want the three of us to live in Japan."

Mori's decision "seems like the final word from the Justice Ministry," the family's lawyer, Shogo Watanabe, said. "All I can do is hope something will change."

Indeed, change is coming, but probably not soon enough for the family. Prime Minister Taro Aso, whose support rate in recent polls is as low as 10 percent, could dissolve the Lower House and call an election anytime before September, when lawmakers' terms expire. It is widely believed the DPJ, the largest opposition party, has a good shot at coming to power.

"Things would be very different if Hosokawa becomes justice minister," Watanabe said.

Amnesty International Japan Secretary General Makoto Teranaka said Japan should consider the Calderon family's human rights. Adopted by the United Nations, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families ensures the rights of even illegal immigrants. However, Japan did not ratify the convention, he added.

Naoya Wada, who provides legal documents and translation services for foreign residents, said, "This is a very difficult case and I cannot say Justice Minister Mori's decision is 100 percent wrong from a legal standpoint.

"Mori probably took into account the serious illegality of using other people's passports," he said.

"Also, Noriko's age, 13, is really critical. If she were younger, Mori might have let the family stay for the time being on humanitarian grounds, whereas if she were a high school student, she would be considered old enough to study abroad alone," he said.

Sarah and Arlan illegally entered Japan separately in April 1992 and May 1993. Sarah was arrested for violating the Immigration Law in July 2006 and was convicted in September that year.

The Immigration Bureau issued a deportation order to the family in November 2006. The family filed a lawsuit calling for cancellation of the order the following month.

The Tokyo District Court squashed the family's plea and the Tokyo High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the district court's decision in May and September 2008, respectively. The family was detained but released on a provisional basis in October 2008 to prepare for deportation.

The family has asked for an extension of the provisional release, which effectively allows them to stay temporarily, and submitted petitions with a total of 18,405 signatures of supporters to the Justice and education ministries.

The Immigration Bureau has extended the provisional release three times since then.

If the Calderon family has a hope, it might be that Justice Minister Mori considers a similar case involving another Filipino couple — who overstayed their visas — and their daughter, who is close to Noriko's age, Watanabe said. In January 2008, then Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama granted that family special residency permission even though both a district and high court had ruled against them.

However, in upholding the district court's ruling, the high court in September 2007 said that although the Immigration Bureau's decision to deport the family was legal, it recommended that the Justice Ministry consider granting special residency permission.

In the words of the ruling, "Taking away the opportunity for (the junior high school girl) to receive an education in Japan and forcing her to give up her dream by deporting her is heartless."

Watanabe said, "Noriko's case is exactly the same."



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