Father’s plight raises immigration policy questions

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Ken Imran Massey considers Japan his home. The Pakistani national has spent almost 18 years — half his life — in this country and his two children are both Japanese citizens.

Despite this, Massey is facing imminent deportation.

Immigration officials issued a deportation order almost three years after Massey and his Japanese wife divorced in 1994 after a 10-year marriage.

Although Massey managed to avoid deportation for a few more years by obtaining a series of short-term visas, immigration authorities finally decided in June that he is no longer eligible to remain.

Massey has since been confined to a detention center in Ibaraki Prefecture.

His desire to stay in Japan and be a father to his children, aged 11 and 16, has forced him to take legal action.

Last week, his lawyers filed a suit against immigration authorities, describing their decision to deport Massey as a “crime against humanity.”

The deportation order goes against an article of the Constitution that aims to prevent families from being pulled apart, they said.

“(Allowing the deportation) would basically be like saying . . . ‘even if you have been here a number of years, have children and have a right to see those children, if you get divorced, get out of the country,’ ” lawyer Satoshi Murata said.

While it is possible for divorced Japanese couples to have continued contact with their children, Massey’s access to his son and daughter would effectively be blocked were he to return to Pakistan, Murata said.

“This system is biased toward Japanese. That (both spouses) are equal in marriage but not in divorce is pure discrimination,” he said.

“It completely goes against marital rights. . . . It restricts marriage . . . and ultimately means one cannot undertake (an international marriage) without feeling uneasy,” the lawyer added.

While Murata believes there are a number of cases where foreign mothers in a similar situation have taken legal action, Massey is probably the first “gaijin papa” to do so.

In 1994, the justice minister granted a special visa to a Filipino woman who had lived in Osaka with her Japanese husband and child despite not having a visa for more than three years.

According to the nongovernmental organization United for a Multiracial Japan, the Tokyo District Court in 1995 ordered the issuance of a special visa to another Asian woman who had a child from her marriage to a Japanese who later died.

In both cases, immigration authorities had initially sought to deport the women.

Massey’s supporters condemn the attitude of immigration officials, who they say make arbitrary judgments based not on law but on “inconsistent case-by-case policies.”

“If you have children in Japan, you should not be made to leave for no reason,” said James Gibbs, a member of United for a Multiracial Japan.

Immigration authorities simply claim that Massey is not eligible for any kind of visa, he added.

Massey may have been able to avoid deportation, however, had he applied for a permanent residency or long-term visa before his divorce. Foreigners who have lived in Japan for more than 10 years, or over three years if they are married to a Japanese, are eligible to apply for such visas providing they have no criminal record and are able to support their family, an immigration official said.

But UMJ head Imtiaz Chaudhry said that some long-term residents from other parts of Asia often have their visa applications rejected. “Massey should have applied for the visa, but surely life should not be decided upon what visa you did or did not apply for, especially when it hinges upon a person’s contact or loss of contact with his children,” Chaudhry said.

Tokyo immigration officials declined comment on the reason for Massey’s deportation for privacy reasons, saying only that Massey “has committed a crime against immigration.”

“Basically, those who commit such crimes must return to their country,” the official said.

Lawyer Murata said Massey has no criminal record.

Officials at Murata’s office said the “crime” may refer to an alleged visa overstay, which occurred while Massey, a former travel agent, was awaiting approval of a visa application made in 1997.

“There is a desperate need for a system whereby a clearly outlined standard is set that automatically grants residency status for those who have been in Japan (for a certain period of time), regardless of divorce,” Murata said.

“It’s because there is no clear system that this kind of case occurs,” he added. “The responsibility for that shortfall should not end with Ken Massey.”