Photo/Illutration Lawmakers of opposition parties and officials of the Immigration Services Agency hold a hearing on issues, including an allegation that a doctor at an Osaka immigration detention facility treated detainees under the influence of alcohol, in the Diet on June 6. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

So many doubts and questions are surrounding the bill to make it easier to deport overstaying immigrants that it would be extremely irresponsible for the Upper House to vote on it.

The situation is testing the chamber’s relevance itself.

There has been a series of revelations about the government’s cover-ups of inconvenient facts and false explanations with regard to the bill to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. The bill would change the rules concerning the detention and deportation of foreign nationals overstaying their visas.

A motion submitted by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan to censure Justice Minister Ken Saito over these matters was voted down on June 7 with the opposition of the ruling coalition and opposition parties including Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People.

But the legitimacy of the bill has been badly damaged nevertheless.

The Diet would be casting off its responsibilities and acting against the mandate of the people if it passes the bill without clearing up any of the serious questions raised about it.

Last week, it was revealed that a doctor at an immigration detention facility in Osaka has been suspended over allegations she was under the influence of alcohol while treating detainees in January.

As she behaved in a suspicious manner, she was subjected to a breathalyzer test whose results indicated a high blood alcohol content. There had been complaints about her inappropriate behavior in treating detainees.

This is not just a problem that only concerns that one doctor. Since January, this doctor has been suspended from duty. But the justice and immigration control authorities covered up the fact until recently, claiming there was a full-time doctor to take care of detainees at the center.

In April, Saito told the Upper House that full-time doctors had been hired for detention centers including the Osaka facility. He also said the effects of reforms to improve the health care conditions at these facilities were making themselves felt.

In the same month, the Immigration Services Agency released a document falsely stating there was a full-time doctor working at the Osaka facility.

A bill similar to the one now being considered that was submitted to the Diet two years ago was scrapped after the death of a female Sri Lankan detainee provoked a public outcry over the way detainees were treated. The health care conditions at detention centers are a key issue for the current bill as well.

The government should have swiftly disclosed accurate information about the Osaka case.

The attempt to cover it up led to the minister’s inaccurate remarks at the Diet and the false claim in the agency’s document, deeply hurting the legitimacy of the deliberations on the bill.

What is baffling is that the ruling coalition, led by the Liberal Democratic Party, has tolerated the insincere responses to the problem by the justice and immigration control authorities and is demanding an immediate vote on the bill in the Upper House after the Lower House passed it on May 9.

The ruling camp’s stance seems to suggest a lack of healthy tension in its relationship with the government. Ishin and the DPP appear to have forgotten their roles as opposition parties as they are playing ball with the ruling alliance.

Remarks made by a refugee examination counselor involved in screening rejected applications for refugee status have raised serious questions about the neutrality and fairness of the process. Speaking at the Diet as an unsworn witness, she said there are actually few asylum seekers who should be recognized as refugees.

But no in-depth debate on this issue has been made.

It has also emerged that a small number of individuals among 111 refugee examination counselors--private-sector experts--have handled disproportionately large numbers of cases deemed as abusing the rule that bans the deportation of foreign nationals overstaying their visas who are applying for refugee recognition.

In his remarks defending the controversial comments by the counselor, Saito said it was “possible for one counselor to carry out 500 face-to-face examinations of asylum seekers in 18 months.”

But he retracted the claim and admitted that it was “impossible” on the night of the same day. This attests to the depth of confusion within the government over the bill.

It would be impossible for the Diet to win broad public support for the enactment of the bill without addressing all these doubts and questions.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 8