Efforts to stop deportation of illegal workers' kids

"These children have lived their lives as Israelis. They're more Israeli than a lot of my friends," volunteer says.

By ELANA ESTRIN
July 30, 2009 13:01
4 minute read.
Efforts to stop deportation of illegal workers' kids

foreign workers children 248.88. (photo credit: Courtesy of 'Israeli Children')

 
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As part of its mission to crack down on illegal foreign workers, the Interior Ministry plans to begin deporting the children of foreign workers on Saturday. The Interior Ministry's "Oz" task force, which replaced the Immigration Police, is charged with handling the deportation. In response, enormous governmental and public efforts are being made to stop the deportation of 1,200 migrant workers' children born in Israel. One such effort is being made by the volunteer organization Israeli Children, founded a year-and-a-half ago in anticipation of the deportation campaign. "These children have lived their lives as Israelis: They go to Israeli kindergartens, are scouts, celebrate all the holidays, and Hebrew is their native language. Even though their appearance is different and their parents come from different places, they're still Israeli," said Rotem Ilan, spokesperson for Israeli Children. This Saturday at 7:00 p.m., Israeli Children will stage a protest by forming a human chain of immigrant workers and Israeli supporters at Gan Levinsky, near Tel Aviv's new Central Bus Station, the location of Oz's initial raid. "We want to show that we're with them. Their love and passion to be good citizens is just amazing. I say many times: They're more Israeli than a lot of my friends. If I ask them, 'what do you want to be?' they say they want to be soldiers, they want to protect Israel. They love this country. They're a part of it," Ilan said. Israeli Children protests a 2006 law which states that the child of a foreign worker can receive a temporary resident permit if he or she meets four conditions: The child shows devotion and commitment to Israel; the child's parents came to Israel legally; the child has lived in Israel for six consecutive years without leaving even for a short period; the child's native language is Hebrew. Ilan says the law is "not logical" because it does not protect children who are less than six years old, since they do not qualify under the condition of living in Israel for six consecutive years. In addition, Ilan says that another law discourages the foreign population by revoking mothers' work permits when they give birth. "We're so proud of our country built by immigrants and refugees. How can we not help people in the same situation?" Ilan said. Israeli Children has petitioned the Knesset to pass a law that would make the deportation of immigrants' children illegal. To this end, the organization has primarily worked in conjunction with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman. Sa'ar is currently working on a bill that would prevent the imprisonment and deportation of children between the ages of 3-18. On Saturday, Sa'ar appealed to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser to prevent the deportation of children. According to Braverman's spokesperson David Erez, the minister recently wrote a letter to cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser, asking him to prioritize the issue in the next cabinet meeting this Sunday. Although the issue of illegal immigrants does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Minority Affairs, Erez said the Ministry was nevertheless contributing to the effort. "It's not under our jurisdiction, but it's the moral thing to do. It's a public, humanitarian issue," Erez told The Jerusalem Post. The Tel Aviv municipality is also contributing to the effort. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai released a statement this week urging the immigrant authorities to keep children's rights in mind. Yael Dayan, in charge of welfare at the municipality, is heading the municipality's efforts to prevent the children from being deported. "We're doing everything we can. We're putting pressure on the Knesset and the Interior Ministry. And we're mobilizing organizations, individuals, celebrities, artists, government ministers, in order to stop the whole thing from happening," Dayan told the Post. Dayan said she was confident the municipality's efforts would be able to prevent the deportation of children. "I'm optimistic. I think there's no way that the public will accept the deportation of children. It's inhumane to deport children. They don't have another home or another language or another culture. Jewish people should not be the ones to put people into camps. I hope that the government will not commit a humanitarian crime," Dayan said. Tel Aviv is home to almost 90% of Israel's immigrant worker population. Immigrant families are mostly from the Philippines, South America and Africa, and a minority are from Nepal and India. They mostly work as caregivers for the elderly, as well as in housekeeping and agriculture. "I am worried," said Mila, a Philippine foreign worker who cleans houses in Tel Aviv and volunteers with Israeli Children. "For the moment, I'm trying to see what we can do. I don't know what to do." Mila and her husband moved to Tel Aviv from the Philippines in 1998. They had a son in 2002. In 2006, Mila's husband was deported. She said she didn't want her son to suffer the same fate. "We will hide and prepare. And I'm praying. Prayer can do everything. It can change the decision of the government," she said. Mila said that while she would like to go back to the Philippines in order to be with her husband, she is determined to stay in Israel since that is what her son wants. "I don't want to go home. I want to stay in Israel," said 7-year-old Jesrael. His name is a combination of Jerusalem and Israel, reflecting his connection to the city and country of his birth.

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