Catholic Priest Defies Alien Fingerprinting System


KYOTO — Jesús Alfonso Galerón has no regrets about being a foreign criminal in Japanese society.

In fact, he says, in his line of work there is an obligation to break the law if it helps to correct social injustices.

That is why Father Galerón, an ordained Catholic priest and member of the Viatorian Society of Brothers and Fathers, is refusing to give his fingerprints as mandated under the Alien Registration Law.

“As foreigners, we have no right to vote,” said the Spanish-born priest. “So the only way we can protest is by refusing to comply with the law.”

Galerón’s case is typical of other religious leaders in Japan, especially in the Kansai region, who decide to violate immigration laws in a country known for its social conformity.

He says that he draws no line between his priestly duties and protesting the discrimination he sees in the Alien Registration Law.

“The average person in society works for humanity, and so do priests and brothers and sisters” of the Catholic Church, Galerón said. “There’s no distinction. There’s nothing in the New Testament or in Jesus’s attitude that would substantiate this dichotomy.”

An 11-year resident of Japan, Galerón, 41, initially refused to allow his fingerprints to be taken two years ago in support of a Korean friend.

“I thought the one way to help him and to feel solidarity with him would be to refuse fingerprinting myself,” he said.

Since then Galerón has been questioned four times by officials. His case continues to be investigated, and it is possible he could be deported at any time.

Like other religious officials in Kansai, an area with the largest Korean population in Japan, Galerón cites discrimination against Koreans as the primary motive for protesting the law.

An estimated 670,000 Koreans in Japan — many of whom were born in this country — must carry a 13-page identification booklet with them at all times, starting at age 16.

The problem, according to Galerón, is that many of these Japanese-born Koreans are descendants of a generation that was forcibly brought here at the height of Japan’s colonialism.

“I recently heard from an officer at the immigration office that the purpose of this law was to make the Japanese feel secure,” Galerón continued. “But secure against what?”

“The answer to my objection was that in order to reassure the whole population (against possible espionage), a small group like the Koreans has to become victimized,” he said.

The Alien Registration Law, which was enacted in 1951, is contradictory to Japan’s talk in 1988 of “internationalization,” Galerón said.

And the Ministry of Justice’s new revisions to the law, which go into effect today, are even stricter on foreign residents than before, he added.

Galerón expresses dismay at the handling of his own case by immigration officials.

“If they really thought that law was essential, I should have been expelled a long time ago,” he said. “They’ve hesitated all along. I interpret that to mean that they don’t really believe in the law themselves.”

As one of about 1,000 fingerprinting refusers in Japan, Galerón takes some comfort in knowing he is supported by his 200 or so parishioners at the Koyama Catholic Church in northern Kyoto.

“They trust me and respect my decision,” he said.