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The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) accused the Interior Ministry of misleading law courts twice within a single month regarding requests by new immigrants for residential status, according to letters released Monday.
The ministry sharply rejected the allegation in one of the cases but admitted that it had erred in the second one.
The letters were sent by ACRI attorney Oded Feller and IRAC attorney Reut Michaeli.
The first case involved Yuli Pragmanchikov, a Ukrainian woman who married an Israeli citizen in 2000 and began a five-year process to receive permanent residential status.
According to Feller and Michaeli, Pragmanchikov had completed four years of the process when her husband died. Afterwards, the ministry refused to renew her visa and ordered her to leave the country.
Pragmanchikov petitioned the Tel Aviv administrative court against the ministry's decision. The ministry told the court that, according to its regulations, the woman's right to apply for permanent status was based on her marriage. When the marriage ended, she lost the right.
The ministry also referred to a decision by the High Court not to intervene in a similar case from 2002.
However, Feller and Michaeli charged that the ministry had promulgated a new regulation in August 2006 which stated that it would grant permanent residency in some cases involving new immigrants whose Israeli spouses had died during their nationalization procedure.
The regulation was drafted in response to a High Court petition involving seven other new immigrants in Pragmanchikov's circumstances.
At the end of a hearing on the petition on September 21, 2006, the High Court had issued a show cause order instructing the ministry to justify its policy of not allowing new immigrants who had lost their spouses to remain in Israel.
Feller and Michaeli charged that had the Tel Aviv administrative court known of these developments, it might have upheld Pragmanchikov's petition.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad accused the lawyers of basing their letter "on utterly mistaken facts which misled the recipients of the letters and the readers." Hadad wrote that the new regulation was prepared seven months after Pragmanchikov had petitioned the court. Furthermore, she had been married only two-and-a-half years when her husband died.
In the second letter, Feller and Michaeli wrote that a man identified as Fortola, who immigrated to Israel with his wife, asked the Interior Ministry to grant residential status to his 15-year-old son from a previous marriage. The ministry refused on the grounds that, according to its regulations, the boy had to have been living with his father for two consecutive years before the father immigrated to Israel.
Feller and Michaeli charged that the Interior Ministry had changed the regulation three months after Fortola filed the petition.
According to the new regulation, the two-year rule does not apply to minors under 16 years of age.
In her response, Hadad wrote that even though the petition had been filed before the regulation was changed, "given the fact that the new regulation was in effect when the state presented its response to the petition and when the court handed down its ruling, we intend to reexamine the case and should the application meet the new criteria, there is no doubt we will grant him status."
According to ACRI legal adviser Dan Yakir, "These things could not happen were the Interior Ministry to publish in an effective manner its entire, updated body of regulations." Yakir added that several human rights groups have petitioned the Jerusalem Administrative Court demanding that it do so.