From Foreign Child to Illegal Immigrant
The Case of T, a Brazilian Man of Japanese Descent Who Lived in Japan for 20 Years
宇都宮大学国際学部教授 田巻 松雄 著
Illegal residence refers to staying in a country where one does not possess citizenship and the required permission for residence. Illegal residents may be roughly divided into illegal overstayers, who have remained in the country beyond the time allotted to them, and illegal entrants, who have entered the country without permission. Both are subject to deportation. Most illegal residents in Japan are illegal overstayers; as of July 31, 2019, there were 79,013 such individuals in Japan. The long-term detention in immigration control facilities of illegal overstayers in Japan is currently considered a serious problem. In general, detention in immigration control facilities for six months or more is treated as long-term. According to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), long-term detainees constituted approximately 50% of all detainees in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.
The numbers of school-age children of foreign nationality (henceforth foreign children) have risen in Japan. The government has adopted a policy that compulsory education does not apply to foreign children; however, they may enroll in school if they choose to. Most of them are enrolled in Japanese public schools. As of May 1, 2018, of the 93,133 foreign students in public schools nationwide, 40,485 required Japanese language support (43.5% of the whole). Some 80% of these were native speakers of Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, or Spanish (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), 2018). Their concerns include lack of understanding of Japanese, inability to follow lessons, inability to make friends, and being subject to bully attacks, thereby resulting in school non-attendance and low high school matriculation rates.
T is a Brazilian of Japanese descent who came to Japan in 1998 at the age of 10 years. He stopped attending school shortly after entering junior high school, and thereafter, he was involved in a repeated pattern of delinquency and crime. While in prison, he lost his status of residence as a long-term resident and became an illegal overstayer. Appealing against the deportation order, he sued the authorities but lost the case. After spending about three years in an MOJ Immigration Control Bureau detention center, he was deported to his home country of Brazil in November 2019. He was aged 31 years at the time.
This book follows T through his twenty years in Japan, as a translation of A Foreigner’s Twenty Years in Japan: From Foreign Child to Illegal Overstayer, published in October 2019 by Shimotsuke Shimbunsha. T was deported to Brazil less than a month after the book was published. His family (parents and younger brother), who remain in Japan, have effectively been cut off from him, as—having been deported—he is essentially unable to return to Japan. I was able to communicate with T through Messenger just once after his return to Brazil, in March 2020; in response to multiple messages, he replied briefly “Yes, it’s me. I’m okay and I’m doing my best, but I haven’t found a job yet. Tell everyone I said hello.” According to T’s mother, who spoke with him a few times by phone after his return, he seems to be homeless and eking out a living as a vendor.
A new year’s card arrived from T in January 2020: “Dear Mr. Matsuo Tamaki, Happy New Year. I wish you and your family a very good 2020. I am used to being back in Brazil by now and am doing fine. Don’t worry about me. From T.” T had planned before his deportation for the card to arrive on time for the new year. The words “I am used to being back in Brazil by now and am doing fine. Don’t worry about me” give the reader a sense of his kindness.
I was able to present T with a copy of A Foreigner’s Twenty Years in Japan before his deportation, when I had no idea that he would be deported so soon. The publication of the book was simply one point along the way, and I was hoping to continue providing any support possible. Nothing about this has changed, even with T unreachable in faraway Brazil. My greatest hope is simply that he will survive. I hope to meet him one day in Brazil and talk about everything directly face to face, instead of through the acrylic divider of the detention center visitation room.
T says that he enjoyed life as an elementary school student; what, then, drove him away from school and into delinquency and crime once he began junior high school? What kept him from reform? To what extent should the fact of his delinquency and crime constrain his life? This book focuses on T as an individual to closely examine his twenty years in Japan.
The original text has been edited to some extent for translation. The References section has likewise been edited to some extent. I very much hope that this book will be interesting for T.