ActivismJapanLGBTQ

Justice for Pato-chan: Trans Rights and Japan’s Brutal Immigration System

While the brutal and racist immigration policies of the US, EU and Australia are well-known, Japan has received little scrutiny about its violent practices against immigrants. To explain, I spoke to a coalition  from Canada involved in the case of Pat (or Pato-chan), a trans Filpina and migrant worker whose incarceration in Japan galvanized activists both domestically and overseas. 


Asia Art Tours: For those unfamiliar, could you provide a brief introduction into the case of Pat (also known as Pato-chan) in Japan? Why is she being detained, and what are the conditions of her detention?

Group Reply: Pat went to Japan in January 2015 to spend time with her father who was diagnosed with terminal cancer; he passed away in 2017. Although her visa expired and she became undocumented, Pat continued to live in Japan for a number of years, working at a bento shop. She is a migrant worker and trans Filipina in Japan who was arrested last year for overstaying after her residency status expired. She was detained at nyukan, Japan’s immigration facilities, but due to COVID 19 has not been deported back to the Philippines, where she fears she will face even worse discrimination

(Protesters from Anakbayan Toronto, protesting on behalf of Pat. Photo provided by group).

Asia Art Tours: As a Trans Woman, how has Pat been treated within detention? And how does her mistreatment speak to larger issues of how trans individuals are policed and targeted by the carceral (Cis)-system globally?

Group Reply: In the detention center she is locked up in a solitary confinement cell and not allowed to interact with any of the other detainees, male or female. Pat is a woman, trans women are women. The carceral system violates her rights in various ways, notably by prohibiting her the full 7hours of outside cell time that other women are given, as well as denying her access to hormone therapy for 8months. She is permitted to go outside of the cell only for 2 hours to avoid interaction with other detainees. The mistreatment of Pat is just one example of how trans individuals are mistreated by institutions: they do not believe us, they do not support us, and they actively undermine our right to exist. 

(Protesters in Tokyo on behalf of Pato-chan. Photo Credit: Justice for Pato-chan)

Asia Art Tours: For you does Pat’s case speak to larger issues of how states police borders, in similar ways that states police gender? And how do other networks of oppression (race and class) amplify this policing and carcerality?

Group Reply: The act of policing is inherently patriarichal, misogynistic, racist, classist, capitalist, homophobic and transphobic. It amplifies the underlying issues of how the carceral and educational systems have been built by and continue to serve those in power; those being straight cisgender men. Any deviance from this and their ideals are seen as problems, unjust, and immoral, when we’re literally just trying to live our lives. In Pat’s case, the oppression she faces is compounded because of her multiple intersecting identities, being an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), her status as a migrant, and a trans woman. Pat’s personal accounts of the transphobia she faces at the detention centre is disheartening and enraging. The state treats OFWs as disposable cheap labour and migrant workers are not granted status in many countries, prohibiting them from accessing benefits.

(Protesters from Makulay ATBP, protesting on behalf of Pat in Toronto. Photo provided by group).

Asia Art Tours: What actions have been organized so far in Japan in support of Pat & other detainees?  And internationally, (both within Canada and elsewhere) how are organizations coming together to try to force their governments to act on Pat’s Case? And what tactics are being used to protest her treatment internationally?

Group Reply: ‘Smash Nyukan Tokyo’, a group of activists, has protest/solidarity actions every 2 weeks around the building of Shinagawa Nyukan. (Editors note: Nyukan is a moniker for the Tokyo Immigration Bureau)

On August 7, 2020 several organizations and collectives came together to protest in front of the Japanese consulate in Toronto ON, Canada. (Facebook post of protest here: Free Pat & All Migrant Detainees in Japan.)

(Protesters from  Japanese Canadians for Social Justice protesting in Toronto for Pat. Here is the list of demands from the Toronto Coalition read during the protest. Photo provided by group.)

Asia Art Tours: Could you discuss, how historically Japan (and other places) have profited off the exploitation of migrant laborers from the Philippines? How are detentions like Pat’s connected to larger problems with capitalism that activists are also looking to address or call attention to? 

Group Reply: The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and highlights how essential migrant workers are, yet they aren’t valued or paid fairly across nations and over 500 migrants are still detained across Japan. The Japanese occupation of the Philippines occurred between 1942 and 1945, as a result of tensions between Japan and the United States. Every day, labour export programs result in thousands of Filipinos leaving the Philippines to other countries to find work and better opportunities. Many of them are Overseas Filipino Workers sacrificing their lives to send money to their families, and the process of finding employment itself also costs money which both the host country and the Philippines benefit from. Migrant workers are exploited and treated as cheap labour by their host country who are in need of them but don’t ever want them to stay. There are cases of OFW with abusive employers and unsafe workplaces especially now with COVID-19, they take advantage of migrant workers’ status that is tied to their labour. In Canada, care workers and farm workers are deemed essential but are not given full status that can provide them with healthcare and protect them from discrimination and abuse.

(Tokyo Protesters outside the Immi Detention Center where Pato-chan was incarcerated. Photo Credit: Justice for Pato- chan)

Asia Art Tours: Globally, how do you see Pat’s case as reflecting on and connecting to other racialized violences of borders? For example, how does Pat’s treatment connect to the racialized targeting of groups like Uyghurs, Palestinians or Latinx migrants?

Group Reply: The policing of borders targets poor, working-class racialized people and migrant workers like Pat. Their xenophobic procedures promote harmful ideas that “outsiders” should not enter the country because they cannot obey the rules. Following groups and organizations like Migrant Rights Canada, Migrant Workers Alliance, Kwentong Bayan, Anakbayan Canada, who are sharing migrant workers stories and fighting for their rights, is a step towards understanding this connection.

Asia Art Tours: For those still comfortable with the global status-quo of borders and capitalism, how do you explain, to perhaps a wealthy white Toronto Resident, or a Japanese office worker in Tokyo, why they should care about Pat’s case? How is her suffering (and the suffering of so many other detainees) our suffering, either now or in the future?

Group Reply: Pat’s case is not an isolated incident. We would ask them to look at how they have achieved what they have, who and what has made it possible for them to succeed? What do those who have that wealth and power tend to look like and why is that? When we fight for the rights and liberation of LGBTQ+ people, we cannot detach it from class struggles. The current conditions in the Philippines have made migration into a business that profits off the violation and abuse of Overseas Filipino Workers. Pat’s case exposes the systems that lead to this forced migration. There needs to be an acknowledgement of how we are all interconnected in this system that disproportionately rewards the few while it severely harms the majority. With that acknowledgement there then needs to be action, there needs to be international support and solidarity with migrant detainees, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have seen, many essential workers, those in health care, farmers, food distributors, caregivers, are migrants – their labour, their contributions, are utterly essential and yet they are not given the same rights, risking so much to provide their families.

(Photos of Pato-chan)

Asia Art Tours: And for those still comfortable (or who find heteropatriarchy) advantageous, how do you see Pat’s mistreatment as a trans woman detainee as something that affects all of us? Why is it important (no matter our sexuality or identity) to fight for trans detainees like Pat?

Group Reply: I would start with exploring the fact that most of all pop culture is from queer and trans Black communities. However queer and trans people, especially queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of colour are more at risk of homelessness, suicide, violence, and discrimination. Pat’s case reminds us that there is still such a long way to go for acceptance to be prevalent, and not just something that is seen on TV. It is through these intersections, of race, class, immigration and LGBTQ+ liberation that our understanding of social issues can be expanded. It is important, no matter our sexuality or identity, that when we have conversations of migrant issues, racial justice, and class struggles, we acknowledge and work towards understanding that they are not separate issues. 

Asia Art Tours: Lastly, with the increasing hardening of borders, surveillance and global ethno-nationalism, why is intersectional solidarity so important? How can we see the cooperation of activists in Japan, Canada and the Philippines in supporting Pat as a path to a world without borders and the violence?

Group Reply: The “anti-trans violence in the Philippines (exacerbated by the repression of LGBTQ activists by the tyrannical Duterte regime) is a contributing factor to mass migration of Filipinos abroad, as well as its Labour Export Policy that leads Filipino/a/x migrant workers to end up in a similar situation to Pato’s in the countries of their destination. We recognize that to fight for LGBTQ and migrant rights, we need international solidarity!” (Rally: Free Pat and All Migrant Detainees in Japan!) The cooperation of activists across the world gives us hope for that world to be a reality.

Activists are working together to expose and oppose both the issues and the conditions within their respective countries while being able to connect them all together. In Pat’s case, the root causes of her migration is due to the worsening conditions in the Philippines and how unsafe and dangerous it is for trans women. The commonality between the advocacy work of activists from Japan, PH, and Canada is understanding the connections between forced migration resulting in finding work overseas and the exploitation of their labour while host countries and the PH gov’t benefit.

This cooperation of intersectional solidarity is important because it indicates that issues are systematic and that these struggles are linked. International and intersectional solidarity is so important because it unites us, because it brings us back to being one with each other. The notion of borders further promotes the idea of being separate but the land we are on was once all connected, it wasn’t separate. This work leads us to question why and how things have come to be the way they are. It is a necessary fight and struggle to build mutual trust and respect, when respect is seen as something to be gained instead of inherent. There can be many paths towards the same goal but it becomes clearer if we lead together.

(On October 6th, 2020 after months of tireless international activism and organizing, Pato-chan was granted conditional release. Her case will bear monitoring and we will continue to fight for her and for all those caught in the brutality of global immigration systems. Photo Credit: Justice for Pato-chan)


For more on Pato-chan’s case and some of the tireless organizers who worked to free her

Links for groups in the Toronto Coalition:

Additional Thanks to:

Author Matt Dagher-margosian

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