Wednesday, June 16, 2004 > News > Metro -- Hearing on immigrant's status in U.S. canceled > News > Metro -- Hearing on immigrant's status in U.S. canceled

June 16, 2004

Shigeru Yamada, a 22-year-old illegal immigrant from Japan, met up with the immigration system again yesterday, but the meeting brought confusion, not closure.

He wasn't tossed out of the United States.

But the U.S. government didn't greet him with open arms, either.

So the young man – who has been here illegally since he came with his mother at age 11 – remains very much in limbo.

Yamada grew up in Chula Vista, cared for by relatives after his mother died two years after coming to the United States on a student visa. His legal status didn't become a factor until he was in high school and friends began helping him with the laborious process of becoming a citizen. In April, however, he was picked up by the Border Patrol while riding a bus in downtown San Diego.

A removal hearing that could have led to Yamada's deportation to Japan was scheduled for yesterday. But it was terminated after the government announced that he had no right to such a hearing because he had entered the country on an immigration status that doesn't provide for a judicial hearing.

Yamada was allowed to walk away free, at least for now. He's still at the mercy of the Department of Homeland Security, which could decide to deport him at will.

His lawyer, Gail Dulay, is asking the agency to take the rare step of allowing Yamada to stay while his advocates push for his citizenship through legislative channels.

"He remains very much vulnerable," she said. "But I'm hoping that Homeland Security does the right thing."

That agency has yet to officially make its call. However, its legal counsel plans to recommend that Yamada be given that break, spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.

"It's not common," Mack said. "It's used in the most extreme cases, when humanitarian issues are present. It's done only after much internal deliberation."

If Yamada wins it, he could be eligible for parole, Mack said. If that happens, he would get documentation acknowledging his presence in this country, and he might, at last, be able to get a legal job.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, has introduced a so-called private relief bill that would make Yamada a citizen, and Yamada's lawyer is pressing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to do the same in the Senate.

Feinstein's office said it is following the Yamada case and may draft a similar bill. But private bills rarely pass, particularly those regarding immigration and especially since Sept. 11.

Dozens of Yamada's supporters turned out for yesterday's hearing. Many were from Eastlake High. He graduated from the school and still helps coach sports teams there.

Nick Gonzalez, who wore a T-shirt with "Free Shiggy" on the front, came from Texas to lend his support. He went to school with Yamada.

"He's a model citizen," Gonzalez said. "He's as American as you can get."

But, technically, he's not, and that has made Yamada's friends angry and confused, particularly since he didn't set out to enter the United States illegally but merely came here with his mother.

Yamada doesn't even understand the Japanese language anymore, they point out. When asked by the immigration judge which language he wished to have spoken at yesterday's proceedings, he answered, "English."

While his future is hardly set, Yamada's spirits were bolstered by the contingent of friends and relatives who came to support him.

"I'm overwhelmed," he said.


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