Is deportation of Filipinos a legal, moral or law enforcement issue? - analysis

There is no real obvious legal obstacle to deporting Filipinos workers whose visas have expired.

August 13, 2019 03:20
4 minute read.

Filipinos in Israel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

When deportation is debated in the headlines, the story usually relates to Palestinian terrorists or African migrants, and raises powerful emotions about how to approach the issue.

But what box should one put the question of Filipino deportation, which was raised on Monday with the impending deportation of Rosemary Perez and her Israel-born son, Rohan, 13, who has never lived anywhere else.

There is no danger with Filipinos as with Palestinian terrorists. But neither is there any international law protecting any Filipino’s right to remain here.

Unlike the vast majority of African migrants who illegally entered Israel by walking across the Sinai border, most, if not all, Filipinos in Israel came here on a legal work visa.

However, the visas of those facing deportation have expired. And unlike African migrants, they face no danger of persecution if repatriated.

Thus the Filipino case does not fit into any of the standard boxes.

There is no real obvious legal obstacle to deporting Filipinos workers whose visas have expired. Israeli law does not include the concept of unlimited jus soli – the right of soil where one is born – which is the legal right of persons born in it to enjoy citizenship.

However, anyone born in Israel who does not have any other citizenship may request naturalization between ages 18 to 21 if they have lived here for more than five years.

The Perez family had their case heard by the Immigration Detention Review Tribunal, the Tel Aviv District Court and Supreme Court Justice Alex Stein, all of which supported her deportation and the deportation of her son.

Justice Stein did not view the issue as legally disputed enough to even write an explanation of the opposing arguments and justifying his decision.

Historically, policy-makers and kings have debated what criteria should be used for offering naturalization to new residents.

In the US and other countries in North, Central and South America, the trend has been mostly jus soli, mean birth in a country entitles one to citizenship regardless of the citizenship status of one’s parents.

In Europe, Asia, the Middle East and many African countries, citizenship has been based mostly on jus sanguinis (the right of blood), or the principle that naturalization is based on one’s marriage, parentage or origins.

Until recently, the US encouraged immigration to help populate the vast parts of the country that were unsettled. Hence, the more lenient test for citizenship.

In other parts of the world, there were already earlier concerns of massive immigration trends that could undermine national security or at least a country’s national character and identity. Hence, the stricter citizenship test.

What are Israel’s law enforcement concerns with Filipinos who arrived legally but overstayed their work visa? Those concerns have not been discussed at length.

Whereas with African migrants, Israel sticks out among other democracies somewhat for the close to zero number of refugee status requests it has approved (even as it has not to date deported some 35,000 Africans), its policy on Filipinos does not stick out much from a legal perspective.

In that case, what seems to be igniting some sympathy for the around 100 children of foreign workers born in Israel who are at risk of being deported is the idea that they have lived in Israel for well over a decade and speak Hebrew as their first language.

In the Perez case, part of the lower court decision to deport them was that the court overruled social worker concerns that deportation would irrevocably harm an already troubled child in favor of the idea that maybe Rohan Perez would fit in and fare better in the Philippines.

The question remains, what if that is not true?

While it may be legal to deport Filipinos like Rohan Perez, even if they have lived in Israel from birth until becoming teenagers, is it morally right?

And even if it isn’t right, what consequences would there be from a law enforcement, economics and identity perspective if the small but growing number of Filipinos were allowed to stay permanently?

Rather than publicly debating these questions, it seems that after years of ignoring the issue, in 2016 the Interior Ministry moved to crack down, starting with regulations stipulating that if a woman residing in Israel as a foreign worker gives birth, she either has to send the child back to her country of origin or leave the country herself.

Then in 2018, the ministry began enforcing the crackdown, ordering such families either to leave immediately or stay until the end of the school year and then leave.

According to the Interior Ministry, there are more than 100,000 legal foreign workers and close to 17,000 illegal foreign workers currently in Israel. There are also more than 66,000 foreign citizens in the country whose tourist visas have expired, the overwhelming majority of whom – nearly 70% – are from the former Soviet Union, and whom the Interior Ministry believes to be working here illegally.

So those who have been deported to date are a drop in the bucket.

Has the government already decided a new path – to broaden the enforcement of deportations? If so, will it also start cutting back on foreign workers’ programs? Or will it start to enforce shorter visa limits on foreign workers so that there are fewer future cases of teenage children who have only lived in Israel, but whose status here is illegal?

Or will there be a new path to citizenship for some Filipinos?

As the deportations seem ready to start, these questions are still unanswered.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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