Though the Interior Ministry has announced that after the High Holy Days it will begin deporting foreign worker families whose children failed to meet the government’s criteria for residency status, don’t expect to see images of children escorted onto planes any time soon.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Yossi Edelstein, in charge of foreigners affairs in the Interior Ministry, said that nobody had plans to hunt down children.

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“The 30-day grace period that the government granted for the foreign workers to submit applications on behalf of their children to stay has been over for a week, but you don’t see me standing with a stopwatch and ready to chase anybody down,” Edelstein said. “I have the addresses of nearly 100 families of people who submitted applications but were automatically refused because they couldn’t meet the threshold, but you don’t see me knocking on their doors.”

Edelstein is responsible for all the ministry’s apparatus that deal with illegal residents, among them the Oz immigration police unit, the agency mandated with reducing the number of illegals in Israel.

He chairs the interministerial committee that recommended the criteria for which children would be granted indefinite residency and which would be deported. He is at the heart of the public debate raging on the issue.

According to Edelstein, in the month that has passed since the cabinet’s decision on the children, his office has received more than 700 applications submitted by illegal aliens on behalf of their children, asking to remain in Israel.

“We conducted an initial filtering process on the spot, which resulted in nearly 100 being rejected for failing to meet the minimal thresholds.

All the rest are currently under review. We will examine every application carefully and call in every applicant for an interview to help clear up any questions and tie up loose ends. So far 60 families have been in for interviews. Once a decision is made in an applicant’s case, they will be notified and instructed on how to proceed. Those who didn’t submit an application are not part of the project and are subject to deportation.”

Edelstein said he sees it as his responsibility to carry out the government’s decisions, even if they are unpopular, but when it comes to talking about the deportation of children, he sounded genuinely irate.

“Everybody keeps talking about the children, but the children are not the real issue here. The children have parents and their parents are illegal aliens. Nobody wants any harm to come to the children, that’s why we set out the criteria and that’s why hundreds are being allowed to stay, but the children cannot be separated from the parents and, like it or not, their parents broke the law, their parents are subject to deportation and they must leave with them.”

Edelstein said he wished that it wouldn’t come to deportation and that all the illegal residents would come forth and voluntarily agree to leave the country. To increase the likelihood of that happening, his office offers incentives for people to come forward.

“We have stated in the past and next week we’ll publish another announcement informing the illegal residents that anybody who agrees to leave voluntarily will be given assistance. We are offering them airline tickets to their country of origin. We pledge to assist them in obtaining any documents they may need from the Israeli authorities. We will coordinate with their nations’ consulates to assist them. We will even grant subsidies for shipping cargo,” Edelstein said. “All I ask is that they honor the government’s decision and obey the law.”

The reason Israelis won’t be seeing images of children hauled off to deportation hearings or placed on planes any time soon is that by losing the temporary protection they had during the application period, the children and their families are joining a population of illegal residents roughly the size of the population of Petah Tikva, Netanya or Holon.

Israel is home to nearly 200,000 illegal residents, and since Edelstein said he won’t be going after families in particular, it is safe to assume that among the thousands of others, the children and their families will enjoy relative safety from deportation.

The Oz unit is the agency charged with locating, apprehending and processing illegal aliens before their deportation.

When it was established, slightly over a year ago, it was hoped that it could start reducing the number of illegal aliens in a substantial way, with a mandate to deport all illegal aliens by the end of 2013. Today that goal seems unattainable. There has been a slight decrease in the numbers of people in the country illegally, but more arrive every day.



When asked what assured him that the government wouldn’t grant more children of foreign workers indefinite residency status every few years, Edelstein sighed.

“I sincerely hope that we won’t see the wheel turn around again. The government has to implement its decision fully. It decided that this would be a one-time measure, and it has to stick to it. In 2006 the government reached a similar decision but didn’t stick to its guns, and the result is this round of children. Unless the state decides on a new immigration policy allowing everyone who comes to stay, it needs to better enforce its decisions. Otherwise, this will repeat itself again and again.”

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