African migrants stand next to a bus after abandoning a detention facility in the southern Israeli desert.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Likud MKs scrambled on Wednesday to find votes for Interior Minister Gilad Erdan’s new policy toward illegal migration, which is set to go to second and third (final) readings in the Knesset on Monday, right before its dissolution.
The Knesset was not dissolved on Wednesday so that the bill, which would allow the state to hold illegal migrants in the open Holot detention center in the Negev for up to 20 months, could become law.
The new rendition follows a decision by the High Court of Justice in September that gave the state 90 days to close Holot and stop the detention of illegal migrants there.
If the Knesset is unable to force the bill through, Holot stands to be closed by December 22, in keeping with the High Court ruling.
The Knesset Interior Committee will continue debating the bill on Sunday and will vote at 10 a.m. on Monday, allowing the legislation to go to its final plenum votes in the afternoon.
Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) said during the panel’s debate on the bill: “We will even pass a powerless law, just so that Holot will not have to be dismantled.”
Since the coalition now has only 43 members, it is far from certain that the legislation will pass its final vote.
Regev and opposition MK Moshe Mizrahi (Labor) worked on compromises in the bill, including forming an Interior Ministry-run administration to rehabilitate south Tel Aviv neighborhoods, where many illegal migrants live.
A senior Labor source said opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) was asked by Likud MKs that his party skip the vote, but Labor plans to oppose the measure, despite Mizrahi’s involvement.
For more than a year, the government has pursued a policy of encouraging voluntary return by migrants.
During November, 224 agreed to be deported, out of a total of 6,190 so far this year, the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority said in figures released on Tuesday. No illegal migrants entered Israel in November and only 21 total have left so far in 2014, it said.
Critics of the policy say the returns can’t be voluntary if the only alternative is imprisonment or if the person has no legal right to work or freedom of movement in Israel.Ben Hartman contributed to this report.