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Friday, June 26, 2009
CONTROLS ON FOREIGNERS
LDP's point man on immigration bills
Shiozaki says despite opposition, clampdown on illegals still intact
First in a series
Even though Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yasuhisa Shiozaki allowed his opposition counterpart on the Lower House Judicial Affairs Committee to add his own clauses to the controversial immigration bills making their way through the Diet, he feels their principle remains intact — tightening control of foreigners in Japan illegally.
The legislative package, now in the Upper House, is the fruit of time-consuming negotiations between Shiozaki and Ritsuo Hosokawa of the Democratic Party of Japan, the two key members of the judicial committee.
"I accepted some of the DPJ's requests as long as they did not change the main idea of the bills," Shiozaki told The Japan Times.
The contentious bills that Shiozaki, a former chief Cabinet secretary, was steering through the Lower House actually had been drafted by the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau.
For his part, Hosokawa was trying to relax portions of the bills he thought would place foreign residents on an unnecessarily tight leash.
"The idea is to clarify how many overstaying foreigners live in Japan and where they are and how to properly deal with them," Shiozaki said. "Overstaying foreigners do exist. But illegal is illegal.
"For those who have a legitimate reason to overstay, we will make them legal," he added, offering no further explanation.
The bills basically would make it easier for the Immigration Bureau to crack down on people overstaying their visa in exchange for making immigration procedures more convenient for law-abiding foreigners.
Under the revised bills, the personal information of noncitizens, including name, address and duration of visa, would be consolidated in the Justice Ministry. Currently, municipalities manage such information but do not have the authority to crack down on foreigners who are in the country illegally.
The bills also carry punishments for failing to properly report changes in personal information, including a new address or getting a different job.
One of Hosokawa's proposals that Shiozaki did not agree to was eliminating a clause requiring foreigners to carry residence ("zairyu") cards.
"We can't give in on that," Shiozaki said. "Carrying green cards is mandatory in the Unites States as well."
Another proposal he rejected was not print the holder's identification number on the card. Hosokawa argued that an embedded chip would be sufficient, but Shiozaki said he couldn't accept this because police and immigration officers should be able to write down the number without having to carry around an IC chip reader.
While he was basically entrusted to represent his party and negotiate with Hosokawa on his own, Shiozaki was pushed hard by rightwing LDP members who did not want him to touch the original wording. He said some in the LDP are unhappy with the final version because they feel the government's power to keep track of foreigners has been watered down.
He was also frustrated with the Lower House Internal Affairs and Communications Committee, which was involved because the bills include provisions to revise the resident registration law. Shiozaki said DPJ members on the committee were too lenient toward overstaying foreigners.
"They want everybody to be listed on Juki Net (the controversial nationwide resident registry network.) But the bills do not allow illegal foreigners to be on Juki Net, so they asked us to create a new residential status to legalize overstaying foreigners who have stayed in Japan more than three months," Shiozaki said. "I told them that is impossible.
"Basically, I was squeezed by LDP conservatives and Mr. Hosokawa was squeezed by DPJ liberals. In the end, we came up with something that doesn't change the basic philosophy," which is to get a comprehensive picture on illegal foreigners, he said.