Ministers' trial balloons on deportation of foreign workers' children ridiculed by human rights groups

By RON FRIEDMAN
September 15, 2009 11:32
Children of foreign workers in Israel

Children of foreign workers in Israel. (photo credit: Courtesy of 'Israeli Children')

 
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Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman remain intent on deportation of children born to foreign workers.

Children of foreign workers...

Children of foreign workers in Israel
Photo: Courtesy of 'Israeli Children'



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The three were commissioned by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to find a solution to the loaded issue, which dominated headlines earlier this summer, after the prime minister ordered a three-month moratorium on the children's expulsion.



The three participants in the forum known as Oz (short for ovdim zarim - foreign workers), decided in a meeting late last week that the children, along with their families, would indeed be deported after the three months are up. But to make the decree a little sweeter, they decided to grant the children a cash "deportation incentive."



Although the amount hasn't been finally determined, sources say that $3,000 was the number thrown around by the participants.



The forum also decided to toughen criteria for issuing work permits to new foreign workers. It suggested that instead of issuing a permit limited to a time frame (currently five years), foreign migrants would be bonded to a specific employer. Under this system, workers who left their employers would immediately be deported back to their home countries.



Steinitz said that the phenomenon of foreign workers, if left unchecked, could threaten the Zionist enterprise.



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While neither suggestion has yet to be approved by Netanyahu and the cabinet, human rights organizations are already in an uproar.



The decision to hold off on the deportations was the result of intensive lobbying by organizations like the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Physicians for Human Rights, Kav LaOved and Israeli Children, and they are determined to keep the pressure on.



Hours after the reports came out about the forum's proposals, Israeli Children called for a solidarity demonstration to be held.



The groups argue that the children, all of whom were born in Israel, study in the public education system, speak Hebrew and have never known any other life.



They claim these children have a right to stay and that they and their families should be left alone. The organizations called on Netanyahu to grant the children and their families permanent status.



Calls to let the children stay were also issued by several politicians. Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman attended the Wednesday evening demonstration in Tel Aviv and told reporters he thought the matter was settled and that it was elementary that the 1,200 children and their parents would remain in the country.



Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar also spoke out against the deportations, saying he would not lend his hand to it. He proposed that, even if it went through in the end, that the expulsion at least wait until the school year is over.



Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines said the decision was "Non-Jewish, non-humane and immoral" and that it would tarnish the state.



The families in question are for the most part people who entered the country with legal paperwork and who lost their status as a result of the children they had. Under Israeli immigration directives, a foreign worker who gives birth is only allowed to stay in the country until the end of her maternity leave. After that, she must leave with her child.



This is not the first time the Israeli government has had to face this situation. In 2006 the government tried to regulate the status of some of the foreign workers' children. The Interior Ministry then granted permanent resident status to 900 children who were born in Israel and were over the age of 4 years and nine months. Many of the children slated for deportation now were too young to be included in the previous arrangement.



Human rights activists also attacked the proposal to bind foreign workers to their employers, describing the move as tantamount to slavery.



In March 2006, the High Court of Justice ruled against a government directive that tied migrant workers to specific employers, whose name appeared on the migrant's passport and whose power to have the workers deported on a whim made normal working conditions impossible. Activists say that the reintroduction of the proposal would be in contempt of the High Court ruling.



According to Interior Ministry data, as of January 2009, there are 280,000 foreigners who reside in Israel illegally. Of these, 118,000 are foreign workers who entered the country legally and either lost their status or stayed behind after their five-year permits expired.



An additional 90,000 are people who entered the country on a tourist visa and didn't leave after the visa expired. The remainder is made up of 24,000 infiltrators and amnesty seekers and 1,200 minors who were born in Israel to parents who came from other countries and who have no legal status.



Netanyahu and the members of the Oz forum have repeatedly claimed that the deportations were being carried out because migrants were taking Israelis' jobs, though it is unlikely that Israelis would be willing to work at the jobs that foreign workers fill.



In recent days, Israeli farmers have both begged and threatened Netanyahu and Yishai to allow the import of 4,000 workers from Thailand, because their harvests are at risk due to lack of labor. Out of desperation and to pressure the government into action, the farmers have taken to asking their workers to stay and work illegally after their current permits expire.



The migrants do the jobs most Israelis won't, even when unemployment numbers climb. They work in the fields, they build and renovate buildings, they wash dishes and take care of the elderly and the handicapped.



The forum members thus face a serious challenge, trying to balance the need for cheap labor with the desire for demographic conformity.

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