As Shabbat drew to a close Saturday, more than 2,000 protesters marched against the deportation of migrant workers’ children.Among them were the embassy cases – families that, in a twist of irony, are threatened with deportation because they have spent many years working in Israel legally.
In 2005, Israel announced that it would give residency to migrant workers’ children; a one-time decision, similar to that made in early August. Parents rushed to file the paperwork.
Ana Louisa Rafael, a mother of three aged 15, 10, and two, still remembers the date she applied.
“July 27, 2005,” she says. Her children, 10 and five at the time, met
all the criteria. They were born here. They were above the age of four
years and nine months. Hebrew-speakers who attended Israeli schools,
they also met the requirement for assimilation.
But they were rejected. Rafael, who came to Israel from the Philippines
18 years ago, says, “We were turned down because we worked with the
The Ministry of Interior explained that only children of undocumented workers were eligible for residency.
Because Rafael was employed by an embassy at the time and held a valid visa, her kids couldn’t be naturalized.
HAD RAFAEL arrived in Israel as a caregiver, like most Filipino workers,
she would have lost her legal status soon after marrying or giving
birth. But embassy workers get leeway – they can have babies and visas.
In 2005, this left 30 children from 17 families ineligible for residency.
Reflecting on the 2005 decision – which, the following year, led to the
naturalization of approximately 900 children of migrant workers –
attorney Natalie Saraf-Raviv comments, “What is the difference between a
child who was raised here without a visa and those who have [a visa]?
The government wants to punish people who are here legally?” In hopes of
helping their kids’ cases, many of the parents left their jobs at the
embassies so they would become illegal. Now the group faces deportation,
despite the fact that their children again meet the criteria for
The reason this time? According to the cabinet’s recent decision, the parents entered Israel with the “wrong” visa.
Rafael points out that the state is naturalizing kids less than half the age of her 15-year-old son.
Because most of the group arrived in the early 1990s, many of their
children are teenagers. Some came with toddlers and little kids who are
now in their early and mid-twenties.
Rafael remarks, “If they have a heart for the small children and it’s a
pity to expel [them] from the country they were born [in], how much more
for our children?” She adds that some kids who weren’t born here and
have been in Israel for less time than her two eldest will receive
residency, while her Israeli-born children are expelled.
Rafael has discussed the deportation with her oldest son. “He said, ‘You
go on your own, I will stay with my friends.’” Will they fight the
expulsion? Will they hide? Ana Louisa responds, “My son says, ‘Why
should we hide? We are entitled to our rights, so why should we hide?’”
Irene de La Cruz was nine when she left the Philippines with her mother,
who had found work at an embassy in Israel. She was educated in Israeli
schools, speaks perfect Hebrew, and has the easy manners of a sabra.
But in 2005, when the Israeli government opened the door to migrant
workers’ children, De La Cruz had two strikes against her – she was an
embassy case, and she was over 18.
At 24 now, De La Cruz is again too old to meet the new criteria.
When she was 19, De La Cruz was picked up by the police. “I got all the
way to Holon,” she says, referring to the police station where illegal
residents are often processed and held before deportation. As she spoke
to the policemen there and explained her situation, De La Cruz recalls,
“They realized I’m young, I studied here, and I’m not an illegal worker.
They understood my status.”
Which is what? “I feel you can be a citizen anywhere, but it’s different
to be an Israeli. I’m an Israeli by my heart,” De La Cruz says,
touching her hand to her chest. “I’m just not a citizen.”
Apparently, the police agreed. “They figured it wasn’t right to deport me,” De La Cruz says. “They let me go.”
Although her mother is Christian, De La Cruz says she feels “much closer
to Judaism.” She would also like to raise a Jewish family, she says,
explaining that she feels completely absorbed into Israeli society.
But there are painful moments when she remembers that the government doesn’t acknowledge her as such.
“I really wanted to serve in the army,” De La Cruz says.
“All my friends were serving and I wasn’t. I was stuck back, not moving forward with [them].”
She adds, “I feel that [army service] is part of your duty as an Israeli. Not as a citizen, but as an Israeli.”
There are other reminders of her unrecognized status.
“I feel like I’m Israeli, 100 percent, right up until the point that people ask for my teudat zehut,” De La Cruz says.
Her mother, Ema de La Cruz, has hired a lawyer in hopes of realizing her
daughter’s dream of getting an Israeli identity card. But, as any
parent would be, she remains worried about the deportation.
When asked what concerns her most about her daughter’s expulsion, she
sighs and her eyes fill with tears. “I cannot express. I have a lot of
worries. You can read my feelings,” she says, gesturing to her face.
Will she stay in Israel alone if Irene, her only child, is deported? Or,
if Irene receives citizenship, will she return to the Philippines? “How
can I leave my daughter?” she answers.
HER HUSBAND, Irene’s father, died in the Philippines.
The De La Cruzes have only a loose network of extended family to speak of, people they haven’t seen in years.
“We are only two,” Ema de La Cruz says. “[Expelling Irene] is like killing half my life.”
Leonida Pagarigan left the Philippines in 1984, when she was just 16.
She entered Israel on a tourist visa and worked as a domestic helper. “I
was a child myself when I arrived,” Pagarigan reflects.
Her husband – whom she met and married here in Israel – came a year
later, at the age of 21. He had work lined up at an embassy. It was a
job he would keep for 25 years, quitting only recently in hopes of
helping his children, aged 20 and nine, who were turned away in 2005
because the family had legal status.
“Now I think there is no reason not to give [our kids residency] because we are illegal,” Pagarigan remarks.
While Pagarigan is concerned about leaving the only country her children
know, her first worry is the health of her eldest child. Her
20-year-old son has hypokalemic periodic paralysis, a rare disorder that
leads to episodes of muscle weakness and temporary paralysis. As the
heart is a muscle, serious attacks can lead to cardiac failure.
“He’s paralyzed when he has an attack,” Pagarigan says. “He cannot move. It’s very sad.”
Her son receives medical attention in Israel – treatment they discovered is not available in the Philippines.
In 2005, when the family visited the Philippines, Pagarigan’s son
suffered an episode of paralysis. “We were supposed to put him in the
hospital. We called, and nobody came,” Pagarigan recalls, explaining
that they were visiting relatives in a rural area. “We cannot transport
him because he has to be with special care in the ambulance.”
Luckily, the attack passed. But Pagarigan is concerned about what could have happened if it had been worse.
Pagarigan has urged her son to appeal to the government for mercy. But
her son, like the “stiff-necked people” he has grown up with, refuses.
“I told him, ‘look, you have to talk to the people who can help you
now,’” Pagarigan says. “He said, ‘I don’t like to beg the Israeli
government to give me a teudat zehut. I don’t think I should have to
beg. It’s inhumane.’” Pagarigan understands his sentiment. “[The
children] have a right to stay here. They have met all the criteria,”
When asked if her kids are Christian or Jewish, Pagarigan laughs.
“Both,” she says. “On Yom Kippur, [my oldest son] goes to the sea to
wash away his sins. I say, ‘How come? You are not Jewish.’ And he says,
‘This is my feeling. You have your own belief, and I have [mine].’”
Judith Trinanis and her husband are both former embassy workers who
arrived here in the early 1990s.
Because they don’t want to worry their children, 14-yearold Michelle and
eight-year-old Michael, they have avoided discussing the deportation in
front of them. But, recently, the issue was forced when Michael saw
news of the expulsion on television.
“He ran out from the salon and [came] into [our bedroom],” she recalls.
“And he told me, ‘Do you know I saw in the television that we are going
to be [sent] out of the country?’ And he asked us, ‘Is it true? Is it
true? We are living here a long time, why do we need to go out from
Israel?’” Still reluctant to discuss the deportation, Trinanis answered
her son, “I told him, ‘I think we just need to wait, I don’t know what’s
going to be.’” As children sometimes do, he pushed the conversation.
Trinanis told her young son that the state considers them “aliens.” “He
asked me, ‘What does that mean?’” Trinanis recalls. “I tried to explain
to him that children who were born in [Israel] can call themselves
Israeli. And so he said, ‘OK, so then I am Israeli.’ And I told him,
you’re right, you and your sister are Israeli because you were born
Her son was unable to understand why the state considers him a
foreigner. Trinanis explained that although he was born here, to the
government he doesn’t “look like an Israeli.”
It’s a concept that still doesn’t make sense to Michael, Trinanis says,
“For him, this is his country, this is where he belongs. He wants to go
to school and serve [in the army].”
Trinanis herself is struggling to understand why kids younger than hers,
some of whom are foreign-born, are being naturalized as her children
And her husband doesn’t understand how Israel can deport their kids to
the Philippines, a country that opened its doors to Jews during the
Michelle, who comments that she is willing to do anything for Israel, simply asks: “Why do I have to start over again?”