Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Immigration case pits sympathy vs letter of law
For some critics of Japan, it is a case of xenophobia in action. For others, a matter of applying the law.
But many were doubtless moved watching 13-year-old Noriko Calderon bid farewell to her parents this week before the Filipino couple, who entered Japan on false passports before she was born, flew back to their homeland, leaving their daughter behind.
“My mother and father, who always said ‘Welcome home’ when I returned from school, will be gone. I won’t be able to eat my mum’s yummy cooking,” said Noriko, who wiped away tears with the sleeve of her typical Japanese school uniform as she said goodbye at Narita airport. “It’s lonely.”
Japanese media have been full of the tale of the Calderon family for months. Noriko’s parents, Sarah and Arlan, had repeatedly sought special permission to stay in Japan with their daughter, who speaks only Japanese and attends a Japanese school.
Last year, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled against the family when they sought to have a deportation order annulled and in March, the justice minister issued a special residence permit for Noriko but said her parents had to leave.
“We made great efforts to take the family’s situation into account and made an appropriate decision that went as far as we could,” Justice Minsiter Eisuke Mori said at the time.
The government will also allow Sarah and Arlan to return to Japan for brief visits to see Noriko.
Japan is distinctly ambivalent about immigrants. Some in business and politics see allowing in more foreigners as a way to help cope with a looming shortage of workers as the population shrinks and ages. Others worry about a threat to Japan’s relatively crime-free and homogeneous society.
Some commentators backed the justice minister’s decision despite the painful choice it put to Noriko’s parents – leave her to live in Japan with relatives or take her with them to the Philippines, where she has never lived.
“The couple have illegally stayed in Japan for more than 15 years. Taking that fact into consideration, we believe the justice minister acted practically in executing immigration policies, which should be strictly adhered to,” said an editorial in the conservative Yomiuri newspaper last month. But the paper urged the government, which has made exceptions for many visa overstayers, to clarify the guidelines for its decisions.
Others said the tough official stance was meant as a warning to other illegal foreign residents and was too harsh. “The ministry’s argument is sound from a purely judicial point of view. But that doesn’t offer justification for disregarding the well-being of a child,” said the liberal Asahi newspaper.
“Noriko Calderon was born and raised in Japan. She understands only Japanese. ‘My homeland is Japan. I don’t want to part from my parents or friends’,” the paper quoted the teenager as saying before the final government decision was made.