In 2011 I was arrested by about 8 cops outside my flat in Toshima-Ku, Tokyo. I was then detained for overstaying my visa in Japan. During my lengthy stay at the Tokyo immigration detention center I met a lot of people, heard a lot of stories, read a lot of books and considered a lot of things.
Immigration and the rights immigrants should be afforded are hot topics both in the USA and in Japan. America is a country founded on the backs of immigrants and like many others have said, America’s secret weapon in recent years, has been the H1B visa; the visa allowing particularly gifted or talented individuals in high tech fields into American society because frankly, the American education system is not making American children smart. Without these very recent immigrants and their specific skill sets, America would be very different and most likely in a far less advantageous place right now.
Japan, for it’s own reasons, is headed in this direction. In fact, it is likely that the only thing which could stave off an utter financial collapse due to a massive old population with fewer and fewer children is a large influx of tax paying and baby making immigrants.
Considering these things it is both ironic yet understandable, the fear I mean. And make no mistake it is a kind of fear.
But, before you open your new case of illogical rant please consider what it might be like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I have done it and it was far darker and more testing than some other very difficult endeavors in my life.
These are things I learned the hard way living 2 years as an illegal immigrant.
You are an easy victim
Simply by being “undocumented”, by definition, you don’t have documents declaring your “right” to be in said country. Why does this matter? Apart from international law, it also means that you are, nearly by default, always on the losing end of any legal battle against a resident of that country.
“But of course! Shouldn’t it be that way?!” Some of you are shouting.
But you are wrong. What’s morally right is what is right, and one’s level of documentation should not impact legal proceedings. Cries of “But he’s an illegal!” should count for naught, but often, they count for everything and in every kind of case; Rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, identity theft, blackmail, extortion, assault and on and on…
Too many cases get boiled down to “But she’s an illegal.”
When this happens justice does not.
You can never relax
The prevailing image, particularly in the USA, is that the “illegals” are all laying around under beach umbrellas, swilling Tecate-Light and checking their online bank accounts for their monthly EBT payments.
This is BS. Being undocumented, especially in the USA or Japan, for example, means that it’s likely someone is coming to get you at some point and they are not picking you up to take you on a magical trip to Sea World. The plan is to lock you up; potentially for a very long time.
Again: Because you do not have a piece of paper saying you are allowed to be in this particular location on earth and work your shitty exploitive job kissing everyone’s ass so they won’t report your undocumented status, you are going to be kidnapped and have your liberty taken away from you.
It’s humiliating, it’s expensive and it’s terrifying for someone who has never committed a criminal act in their life. And frankly, even for someone who has.
Your family life is totally dysfunctional
Love this show.
So, you are living undocumented, for whatever reason: fleeing death squads, religious persecution, trying to carve out a better life for your documented children born in said country, trying to make money for your future or you just overstayed your visa. Now, something happens, your child or significant other, who is documented, needs you to come to such and such place; their school, the tax office, the city hall, the (god forbid!) police station or even the bank and guess what? You can’t go. Anything which might require your identification being checked is a risk you can’t take. Not if you want to stay in this family members life in your current geographic position.
Or even worse, someone “back home” calls or writes and drops an atom bomb: “Mom is sick. Can you come home?” Several things cross your mind. Can I actually go home? Can I leave or will I be detained? If I go, I am sure I won’t be let back in: do I take my family, who are legal residents/citizens with me? But their life is here. My income and livelihood is here. But I have to see if Mom is Ok.
Sounds familiar? Season 3!
It’s torturous. Honest psychological torture and it’s a reality for many people who are really just trying to make their way in the world.
You are constantly lying, even to yourself
Because it totally works AGAIN.
If you live the life of an undocumented alien inevitably you start lying. Someone asks “How long is your visa for?” And you lie. You lie and tell some story. You do this because you don’t want to be that guy. You lie because you have an illusion of a stable life and if you have never been in this situation you cannot possibly understand how vital maintaining this illusion is, even to yourself.
Over time, this catches up to you. So does scrambling around attempting to avoid giving this person a document or that person a document. You are constantly gambling: “Yes, I will get her, the manager, HR (whoever) a copy of my new passport and visa next week.” You have basically shoved all your chips in on the gamble that they are going to forget to ask.
This was so stressful for me personally that my hair began to fall out over the course of two years with the massive 2011 earthquake really being the shit icing on the shit cake; I have no history of hereditary baldness. It was all pure stress and after it concluded the hair loss stopped. Intense and constant stress. This stress also aided in me nearly becoming a full blown alcoholic. Working six days a week, paying child support, paying even more to see my kid and all the while constantly wondering when the foot would drop and I would be found out. Then add in juggling friendships, family back home and other responsibilities…it was not a pleasant time in my life.
When you do come clean, nobody really gets it.
Triple Threat! I hate her by the way.
When I finally came totally clean and told my family I was living here undocumented the general reaction was “So? You’re married to a (insert native country). So, what?” They just didn’t get it. Normal residents in the country and particularly the citizens of that country rarely understand the severity of being found out as undocumented. They imagine it will involve an apology and a long and wasted afternoon at the immigration office “sorting it all out.”
They have no idea it can involve 8 police officers, months of incarceration, lengthy interrogations, the destruction of your professional life, personal relationships, decapitation of one’s savings and any semblance of a decent existence and all because a sticker in a little book is out of date.
They don’t get it because fundamentally most people understand it’s really just a stamp that some arbitrary individual decides to put in a little book you are required to travel with. On a basic level most people think it’s unimportant. This is true until one is on the receiving end of the clubs, I assure you. Suddenly the stamp and what it allows, becomes tremendously important.
It’s not “Jail” per se…
It is widely held, based on various international treaties, that illegal immigration or the breaking of immigration regulations, although against the law is not punishable under the criminal umbrella but rather via civil penalties such as detainment and deportation.
But what is “detainment?” Well, it’s a lot like being locked in jail, in fact, that is exactly what it is. Sure, the circumstances detailing the severity of one’s detainment might vary from country to country but make no mistake: You are not allowed to leave and your freedom has been taken away. In Japan, immigration detention has very few differences compared to normal pre-sentence jail time. You are locked up, you can’t leave and your belongings and person are subject to regular search and confinement.
Detained? For a minute I thought you meant JAIL. I am SO relieved.
What’s more, and potentially the single solitary thing which makes “detainment” considerably worse than actual jail time is that in most cases there is no end in sight. You were not sentenced, there is no deadline. You are locked up in a kind of hellish limbo with no information about the length of your stay. Sure, the amateur immigration attorney from Mongolia sleeping on the floor next to you, yeah on the floor, might assure you that the process only takes a month but the Filipino guy on the other side of the cell has been there for four months and is likely being sent to a “long-term detention facility” far away, for how long nobody knows.
You simply have no information at all and no way to get any. This is one hell of a nifty type of mental torture.
You get caught in more law breaking just to Survive
A Bangladeshi man I met while “detained” at immigration was picked up because while he was waiting for his first paycheck from his IT job with a major company to be sent, he was working part-time at a grocery store mopping the floors. This man had a working visa and permission to be working in Japan. In fact, he had been living in Japan for nearly a decade with his wife who also had legal status here. Well, someone called immigration, a hotline which pays money to tipsters no questions asked if they turn in some insidious violator, such as the forty year old IT engineer with a Master’s degree who was mopping floors to save pennies to quickly pay for his aging father in law to come to Japan, and he was quickly picked up by 4 police officers and locked up. He was locked up because mopping floors was not a job he was allowed to have based on his visa working status and he was ultimately deported after months of protest. He cannot return to Japan for ten years. His wife is now supporting the entire family alone.
You evil piece of shit.
Now, this was not my story, I did break the law via breaking someone’s face open and this is what got me on the outs with the law and immigration, but the point is, even if you feel you are doing nothing wrong, you get locked into a cycle of trying to survive and it spirals into more problems.
For example, one overstays one’s allowed period of stay by accident. While not realizing it technically you have broken the law. Now, you continue to work, this is another law broken. You fail to report yourself to the immigration authorities, another law broken. After realizing you are six months past due, instead of turning yourself in you decide to just finish the year, you lie to your company and continue to use your expired identification card, another law broken. You move residences and do not report the move for fear of being found out with expired documents, something all Japanese residence, native or otherwise must do, and you have broken another law.
All this time you are working, paying taxes, paying bills, sending your child support , going to school festivals, birthday parties etc and the law breaking just piles up.
When I sat down with an immigration agent and they opened the tome of knowledge they had on me, literally a paper file thicker than the King James version of the bible I was asked:
“How many laws do you think you have broken in Japan not including anything involved with your assault case three years ago?”
“Hmmm….two? Over staying and not reporting a move?”
“16. You have broken 16 other laws since then.”
You live completely dependent on whoever is covering for you/vouching for you.
Unless you are like the guy I met in “detainment” from India who had overstayed a 3 month tourist visa, for two years, and never worked due to his families fabulous wealth and had just stayed at a hotel in Roppongi the whole time clubbing 6 nights a week utterly tripping balls, then the chances are whoever is employing you during your undocumented period is essentially your owner.
This might tie into the first point, but it stands alone with ease.
After I paid my dues, literally, and left the warm embrace of the Japanese judicial system, I was hired back by my former company as a contract worker. There was one caveat: I would be commuting 2 hours, one way, three days a week to a contract at which I would likely be eating a fair amount of day-to-day shit.
I happily accepted. Why? Because my visa status was in question and I knew getting a new job meant showing someone new papers. This was not an option when I was just trying to rebuild a shattered personal and financial life.
After a year of them asking me for new documents and me saying “Um…I um…forgot to bring them?” monthly, they then asked me to take another position, at a location nobody else wanted for money that was not good, and again I happily accepted.
Two years went by and I was balls deep in my undocumented stay and the farce of them asking me once a month when I picked up my paychecks about my new documents was at a blistering high. Then, due to a restructuring deal which would make them slightly more money, they cut my contract, pulled the rug out from under me and stuck me at another location, for even less money and what did I do? Did I contact the unions? Expose their (explicitly) illegal move? Did I call the cops? No, I smiled and tried to relax my sphincter whilst assuming the position. Why?
Because I had no way to get another job. These people knew I was working illegally, they were tacitly supporting it and they knew I had no recourse but to take what I was given. They knew I had a kid and bills to pay and the leverage they had was strong. The best part: I was still paying federal and city taxes. Yep.
Could I have walked? Flipped the bird and found something else? Probably, but I was clinging to this oasis of legitimacy in my life, which felt very illegitimate, at the time. Now, imagine a 19 year old girl from Vietnam or Korea or the Philippines. Imagine what they get sucked into. Imagine an undocumented father of 3 and the shit he will eat to keep food on the table. The horror show is extensive. I know a lot of people have no sympathy for undocumented folks in “their” country, and I ask none for myself, but I have seen some of the people who become victims at the hands of the natives who don’t mind leveraging fear and desperation for their personal gain. This happens the world over in any developed country where people go to try and find a “better” life.
You are portrayed as some kind of mooch, dead beat or criminal
Fenster: They treat me like a criminal. I’ll end up a criminal.
Hockney: You are a criminal.
Fenster: Why you gotta go and do that? I’m trying to make a point.
Yes, I broke the law. In 2008 I made some BIG mistakes and I paid for it. So, I tried to turn my life around. Then, in 2011 that all caught up with me again and I had another vacation courtesy of the Japanese government on the luxurious 8th floor of the immigration building in beautiful Shinagawa, Tokyo. So, what I am going to say here might not apply to me. But I learned it applied to many others.
Too many people think everyone undocumented person in their country is a scum bag or a criminal and this simply isn’t the case. Some of them surely are, but then again some of you people reading this likely are as well. Are all of you parasites on society? No. But I am certain and least of few of you trolls dreaming up your ironic comments for below surely are just that.
The point is that shit happens. People over stay or can’t get a favorable immigration status and they just decide to chase their dreams anyway. Living in a country, working, saving, buying and selling things and adding to the local economy are not bad things. The level of illogical hate I see, particularly online, for “illegals” is absurd. As I said before, some undocumented residents might be bad, but a lot of the documented native born population is as well and for every “free-loading Mexican” you point a finger at there are 10 more from various countries, including Mexico, who work much harder than you and they have carved their lives out with their own bare hands. Nobody gave them shit; they forced it.
It is a rough place to be in when one is trying to do the right thing by family and one’s self, working hard at jobs other people might turn down, knowing your options are very limited and all the time society referring to you as a criminal, a scum bag and a leech. The most prevalent stereo types of the undocumented alien are that of a criminal or a mooch. Sucking away at benefits they have no rights too. These people are out there, but the vast majority of undocumented workers just want to do the following: Work hard in a place which is providing something their home country could not, raise their family and be left alone.
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