A Lower House panel Friday began deliberating a controversial bill that would revise the immigration law by strengthening state control over foreigners and illegal entry by shifting responsibility for alien registration to the central government from municipalities and increasing penalties for violators.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc is trying to get the bill passed before the Diet closes for the summer on June 3. But passage is uncertain because many opposition lawmakers and human rights groups have harshly criticized the amendments, saying they could lead to undue surveillance of foreign residents.

In the Lower House, LDP member Masaaki Akaike criticized Justice Minister Eisuke Mori’s decision to give a special residency permit to the daughter of an undocumented, and now departed, Filipino couple at a time when the government is trying to decrease the number of illegal aliens.

Last week, Arlan Calderon and his wife, Sarah, were deported, leaving behind their 13-year old daughter, Noriko, who was granted special permission to stay for a year by Mori.

Heavy media attention drew sympathy for the family, but it also raised charges that they were getting special treatment. The couple entered Japan illegally in the 1990s by using other people’s passports and gave birth to their daughter here in 1995. After their illegal status was discovered, they began requesting a special residency permit that would allow them to stay together.

“The Calderon family is guilty of triple crimes — illegal entry by using other people’s passports, violation of the Alien Registration Law and not registering their daughter,” Akaike said. “The Japanese people are going to be concerned that even if we make the rules stricter, (undocumented foreigners) are going to be able to get around by appealing to the justice minister.”

There are no standards for granting special residency and each case is determined by the justice minister. Mori told the panel that special permits are not granted lightly.

“The decision over whether to grant special residency permits is determined after conducting comprehensive consideration of each case — the reason for seeking the permit, the family’s situation, the state of domestic and international affairs, the need for humanitarian consideration and the impact it will have on illegal foreigners in our country,” Mori said. “It is not an issue where I would grant special permits just because they appealed.”

Japan uses a dual administrative structure to control immigration. The Justice Ministry handles immigration control and the granting of residency permits, while the municipal governments are in charge of issuing alien registration cards. The ministry estimates that about 20,000 cards have been issued to illegal stayers.

The bill would give control of alien registration to the Justice Ministry, which is thinking of abolishing alien cards and creating a new type of ID called a “zairyu” (residency) card to document foreigners intending to live here for more than three months.

Zairyu cards would list an individual’s name, photo, nationality and visa information, and foreigners would be obliged to “have the cards with them at all times,” the bill stipulates. Violators would be fined up to ¥200,000 for not carrying the card or incarcerated for as long as 10 years if caught forging them.

Critics and opposition legislators have panned the proposed penalties.

The bill would also extend the maximum period of stay for documented foreigners to five years from three.

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