The Tokyo District Court on Friday granted an Iranian family of four in Gunma Prefecture who have overstayed their visas for more than 13 years permission to stay in Japan, citing humanitarian reasons.

Presiding Judge Masayuki Fujiyama approved a suit filed by 40-year-old Amine Khalil, his wife and two daughters, seeking the cancellation of a decision by the Justice Ministry’s Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau to deport them.

“They have already set up a basis for living (in Japan) as good citizens, and forcibly expelling them would go against humanity and would correspond to an abuse of discretionary power,” he said.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers said that this is the first time a court has rejected a decision by immigration authorities to deport foreigners who have stayed illegally in Japan for a long period of time, except for those applying for refugee status.

Chief lawyer Satoshi Murata said the government should come up with a clear set of criteria for allowing illegal immigrants to remain in Japan. In the absence of standards of this kind, many people are being deported unfairly, he said.

The number of cases in which the Justice Ministry has agreed to grant special residence permits has grown — but critics have complained that the ministry’s decisions have been arbitrary.

According to the ruling, Amine entered Japan in 1990 on a 90-day visa. He remained in Gunma Prefecture after this vis expired and had his wife and daughter, who was 2 years old at the time, join him the following year.

The couple’s elder daughter, now 15, is now attending a local junior high school, while their Japan-born younger daughter, 7, is attending a local elementary school.

In late 1999, the family visited the Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau to ask for special residence permits.

The bureau rejected their requests and decided in June 2000 to deport them.

Judge Fujiyama said deporting the children born or raised in Japan to Iran, where the ways of life are so different, “could undermine their human characters and value systems.”

Amine and his family expressed their joy in a news conference after the ruling.

The 15-year-old daughter said she can speak little Persian, adding that she thinks and speaks all in Japanese.

“I like children, so I want to become a child care worker in Japan,” she said.

“I want to say, “Thank you,” to my lawyers and supporters,” Amine said in fluent Japanese.

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