Photo/IllutrationNelly talks with her daughter in Osaka in October. (Taro Tamaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

An 18-year-old girl in Osaka Prefecture thought she had prepared herself well for her university entrance exam interview.

The high school senior attended the session in October. Then, an unexpected question asked by her interviewer caught her off guard, "What is your dream?"

The girl, without hesitating, responded, “I don’t have one.”

But, in fact, she is a dreamer.

She had dedicated herself to a brass band club since her junior high school days. Playing the clarinet is her passion, and she once dreamed of becoming a musician in the future.

However, she now believes such a dream is not attainable because she is an “undocumented” child in Japan.

“Thinking about my future scares me,” the girl said. “Even if I find something I like to do, there is no guarantee for tomorrow.”

Her family is seeking special permission to stay, and a ruling is scheduled at the Osaka District Court on Nov. 29.

‘COUNTRY I’VE NEVER BEEN TO’

Her parents entered Japan from Peru illegally in the 1990s. They made up fake passports, using aliases to make them look to be Peruvians of Japanese descent so they would be under no employment restrictions.

They worked at many places such as an automotive parts factory and iron factory.

Both of their two children, the girl and her younger brother, now 16, were born and raised in Japan.

Their happy family life ended abruptly eight years ago when their father, 62, was arrested for violating the immigration control law. The girl was still in elementary school at the time.

Nelly, her 53-year-old mother, surrendered to an immigration bureau, which ordered the family to be deported.

The parents told the girl that their family might be forced to return to Peru.

“Now you tell me that I have to go back to a country that I’ve never been to?” the girl replied.

The family was temporarily released from incarceration and put on provisional release status. They then filed a lawsuit at the Osaka District Court seeking special permission to remain in Japan.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the family lost its lawsuit in 2015. The father was forcibly deported to Peru the following year.

NO TRIP WITHOUT PERMISSION

The girl, who lives with her mother and her younger brother, has lived a life full of constraints due to the family’s provisional release status.

She needs to obtain permission from immigration officials to leave the prefecture. She has had to turn down invitations from her friends to go on outings to Kobe and Nara.

Having not been allowed to work, the family has relied on support from a group affiliated with the Catholic church.

The family has been surrounded with sympathetic supporters.

A 57-year-old principal of the high school where the girl attends has submitted a written petition to the justice minister.

“No blame should be placed on the child. Please guarantee her the right to study in Japan where she was born and has grown up,” the principal wrote.

Teacher Mitsumasa Hanazawa, 68, used to visit the family’s home every week for three years when the girl was in junior high school.

Hanazawa, who has 38 years of teaching experience, taught the girl how to study.

“She really is a serious student,” he said. “She studied very hard to get into the school of her choice.”

Nelly said she has felt “ashamed of being unable to do anything and depending on help” from good Samaritans such as Hanazawa and other supporters.

“My children are suffering because of me,” she said. “I want to do anything I can for them.”

She filed another lawsuit at the Osaka District Court in 2017, seeking special permission for the three to remain in Japan, on the grounds that the siblings have planted roots in the country.

The family hopes to win the case based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international agreement on childhood, which Japan ratified in 1994.

The UNCRC sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child and demands every measure regarding children be taken in their best interests.

For the teenage girl and her brother in Osaka who understand only a little Spanish, deportation to Peru or forced separation if their mother is deported would be a great detriment, the lawsuit argues.

The government, on the other hand, has asked for the case to be dismissed based on the immigration control law and other reasons, arguing that the best benefit for the children should be defined by the justice minister within the framework of the status of residence system.

The girl presented her case before the court in August during the summer holidays. She tried to keep the sobs from her voice as she spoke about her school life and expressed appreciation toward people who have supported her.

“I will study hard to get a career in the future,” she said. “I will make a living, trying not to bother anyone. So, please grant me permission to stay, please.”

In late October, the girl received a letter from the university of her choice telling she had been accepted.

UNCLEAR STANDARDS

In the United States, eligible immigrant youth who came to the country when they were children have been protected from deportation under the immigration program called the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). These undocumented youth are known as "Dreamers."

The DACA is not a familiar concept in Japan. But many families--such as the one in Osaka--have desperately sought similar relief in a nation that has an increasing number of immigrants.

The special permission is only granted by the justice minister, who considers the individual situation of foreigners who have received a deportation order after illegally entering the country or overstaying their visas in Japan.

Starting from the 2000s, lawsuits seeking special permission for migrant families with children to remain in Japan have been filed more frequently and nationwide. The increase occurred against the backdrop of Japan’s economic surge during the 1980s and 1990s called the “bubble” when many non-regular foreign workers filled the nation's labor shortage.

The case that received the most attention involved a Filipino family in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture. A court granted special permission to remain in Japan only to the oldest daughter of the family who was born and raised in Japan. She was a junior high school student at the time.

At the same time, the court issued a deportation order to the parents, who entered Japan using forged passports.

The daughter and the family’s supporters urged the government to let the family remain together in Japan. However, anti-alien messages, such as “Criminals should go home,” also flooded the Internet.

Critics pointed out that the criteria for granting special permission was unclear. The justice ministry revised the guidelines in July 2009, but the criteria remains ambiguous.

In 2018, the ministry granted 1,371 special permissions. The number has been in decline. For example, in 2011, the ministry granted 6,879 special permissions to stay in Japan.

The ratio of permissions granted to the number of applications has also been decreasing. The ratio in 2011 was 80 percent, whereas it dropped to 57 percent in 2018.

Sachi Takaya, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Human Sciences of Osaka University who specializes in issues regarding non-regular immigrants, pointed out the immigration authorities’ screening process has become stricter in recent years while the legal system remains unchanged.

Takaya thinks the lawsuit filed by the Osaka family is forcing the court to address the question: "Which is more important? An immigration control structure that is the sovereignty of the nation, or the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international law?"