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A government-sponsored amendment to the Law of Entry could force thousands of mixed-marriage families to separate, with noncitizens being sent abroad to obtain the paperwork needed to receive permanent residency, according to social activist groups. They have scheduled a conference for Sunday in Tel Aviv to raise awareness of the issue.
Participants will discuss Amendment 19 to the Law of Entry, which received initial approval last summer in the Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, "without any significant public consideration," organizers of the conference said in a press release.
"It's still theoretical, but if it passes its subsequent readings, this law could see many families torn apart," Itamar Shachar, spokesman for the Association of Mixed Families' Rights, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Shachar's NGO is one of several groups gathering Sunday to discuss the bill, including representatives of the Association for Mixed Families' Rights, The Coalition of Women for Peace, Women Against Violence, Isha L'Isha - Haifa Feminist Center, Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers, as well as numerous politicians.
If the bill becomes law, any person living here without a valid visa would have to leave the country for one to five years, returning to their country of origin to apply via the Israeli consulate for residency or citizenship.
"We are talking about people who have no status," said Shachar. "Some ended up being illegal because they had no choice - non-Jewish spouses of Israeli citizens; Palestinian citizens of Israel married to Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza Strip or another country; Beduin residents of the Negev who are not registered in the Interior Ministry; immigrants whose Judaism is in doubt; those seeking political asylum in Israel; and women brought here by the trafficking cycle."
Shachar gave the example of a migrant worker from Nigeria who met and married a Filipina here.
"They now have a four-year-old daughter together and neither of their native countries will accept them back," he said. "Where are they supposed to go?"
MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima), a member of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee who will speak at Sunday's conference, told the Post she had been "fighting this bill since it was first proposed."
"There is nothing more important than the status of the family and nothing worse than separating family members," said Solodkin, adding that parliamentarian opposition to this amendment was increasing.
"As soon as the [Labor] primary is over, I plan to approach [committee chairman] Ophir Paz-Pines to prevent this bill from becoming law."
"While I agree there needs to be regulations regarding foreign workers and illegal Arabs, we should not tarnish everyone with the same brush," she said, adding that such a law would have serious consequences for thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
"There are already so many people living here without citizenship because it [the Interior Ministry] has not managed to solve the problem of their status," Solodkin said.
Rafael and Ella Blogolovsky from Nahariya are one such family. Rafael made aliya from the FSU in 1994. His wife, Ella, arrived from Ukraine three years ago on a tourist visa.
It was during Ella's stay (she came to see her sister, who is married to a Jew) that the two met and fell in love. Married a year and half ago in Paraguay - so as to avoid the Orthodox conversion process - they now have a nine-month old daughter who is also fighting for citizenship.
"It's a terrible situation," said Ella, her baby, Rinat, crying in the background. "I officially have no home. I can't go back to the Ukraine [because Rafael would not be eligible for citizenship], and here I can't work. I don't belong anywhere."
Ella said the family, which is struggling to survive on Rafael's salary alone, had been trying for nearly two years to tackle the immigration process so that she could obtain some form of legal status.
"My patience is beginning to wear thin," she said. "We have gone through so much, including traveling to South America to get married. Now they are talking about me having to leave the country so I can apply for citizenship? We have wasted so much time already dealing with the bureaucracy, life is too short - how much more time do we have to waste on this?"
Oded Feller, a lawyer for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, said the government was trying to amend the law for demographic reasons.
"The government is trying to avoid giving legal status to anyone who is not Jewish," he said.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabene Hadad said the bill was part of a government initiative to motivate those living here illegally to seek an official status.â€¢