Immigration Police spokeswoman Supt. Orit Friedman called the depositing of a two-and-a-half-year-old baby girl at the Haifa police station Monday morning a "pressure tactic" to get her father, a foreign worker, released from prison.
"It is a tactic that we see all the time," said Friedman. "They use a child to put pressure on the authorities to release the parent."
The child is the daughter of Joel Manah, an illegal from Ghana who was arrested by Immigration Police on Sunday evening.
"[Manah] has been living in Israel illegally for the past 14 years," said Friedman. "Upon his arrest he told us that he had a wife and child, but then changed his story, saying that he was no longer together with his wife," and that therefore there was no one aside from him that could care for the child.
The following morning, continued Friedman, "the child was brought to the police station with a photographer and journalist from Yediot Aharonot."
The police call this tactic a "baby visa."
Speaking from Ma'asiyahu Prison near Ramle, Manah told The Jerusalem Post that the police were lying. "All I want to do is to take care of my little girl," he said, and added that he had not seen or heard from his wife, the child's mother, since last October and that his daughter, May, was in the daily care of a babysitter.
According to the law, if an incarcerated foreign worker is the sole guardian of a child then he or she must be released from jail, said Romm Lewkowicz, spokesman for the Hotline for Migrant Workers, which as of Monday had taken on Manah's case and was in the process of petitioning the authorities for his release.
"The law is clear. They are not allowed to leave a minor without a guardian," said Lewkowicz. "How can they take a child away from her father and put her into an unfamiliar environment with a different language and culture?
"We are talking about the well-being of a child - whether there is a mother is irrelevant. The child needs to be with someone familiar as soon as possible."
The child's babysitter said that she was also worried about May's welfare. "Someone called me this morning to ask what kind of food May likes and what comforts her," said the babysitter.
She said that she had met the girl's mother on a few occasions but that the mother had not visited her daughter recently. She also said she believed the couple split because Manah wanted to take the family back to Africa and his wife, an illegal immigrant from the Philippines, did not want to go.
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, said that he had only just heard of the "baby visa" tactic to get foreign workers released from jails.
"We do not support the use of a child in order to help adults be released from jail or anywhere else," said Kadman. "Every child has a right to live with his or her family but a child cannot be left on the stairs of a police station.
"In some cases you have to replace the family for a short while," he added. "Being taken in by the social services is not a punishment. On the contrary, we are constantly pushing social services to help children regardless of where his or her parents come from."
"The conditions for foreign workers in Israel is bad," said Lewkowicz, "but before the police do something drastic, such as make an arrest, they should check up on the person's background. People guilty of worse crimes than being here illegally, such as rapists and murderers, are treated with more leniency than foreign workers."