Legal limbo

Approximately 620 families are still waiting to hear whether they can stay in the country with their children.

By INBAL AHARONI
September 26, 2011 16:55
Children in legal limbo

Children of foreigners in legal limbo 58. (photo credit: Dafna Talmon)

It’s been 10 years since Rhoda Natividad paid an employment agency $5,000, left her native Philippines and came to Israel looking for a better life. Today Natividad, 32, lives in a oneroom apartment in a rundown building, in a south Tel Aviv neighborhood just a couple blocks from the central bus station. She lives there with her husband, Rogelio, 38, and their children, two-yearold Edriel Israel and six-year-old Charlotte Russe.

“When I came to Israel, I thought it was only temporary,” says Natividad, who works as a housekeeper, “but when I gave birth to Charlotte I said ‘this is the land for Charlotte.’” Natividad, like any other parent, wants the best for her children. She says life in the Philippines is hard, especially when it comes to raising kids. Plus, she adds, “if you compare the money [you can make] here and in the Philippines...” she shakes her head without finishing the sentence.

The Natividad family’s hopes of gaining legal residency status, like those of many other foreign worker families, rest on the tiny shoulders of their daughter. Charlotte is one of 701 children whose residency requests were submitted to the Population and Immigration Authority (PIA) in August 2010. That was the month a government decision was made to grant residency to the children of foreign workers currently considered illegal, if the child met certain requirements. Once a child is granted residency, the families can apply for temporary residency status for parents and siblings as well. Currently, there are approximately 620 families still awaiting decisions – the others were rejected on the spot for not meeting the minimum criteria. No families have yet received a positive answer.

According to the government decision, for residency to be granted, at the time of application the child must have spoken good Hebrew and been registered for the 2010-11 school year in first grade or up. At the time of the government decision, they must have lived in Israel for five years consecutively and have entered the country before the age of 13; additionally, their parents must have entered the country legally prior to the child’s entry or the child’s birth in Israel.

But even with this government decision to grant residency status, Reut Michaeli, executive director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, says the odds are still stacked against the foreign worker families.

“They were required to file documentation within three weeks of the decision – you cannot just find all those documents in three weeks,” she says. There was also the issue of kids who were on the borderline of meeting the requirements.

“The children who were in preschool [in August 2010] and are now in first grade were not covered in the legal decision,” she says, and neither were the “children who were here for two weeks less than five consecutive years....”

These issues, according to Michaeli, led the hotline to petition the court requesting that a special committee be established to hear these borderline cases. “What is the difference between a case where a child had been here for five years, and one who had been here for two weeks less than five years?” she asks.

Noa Galili, spokeswoman of the group Israeli Children, an organization promoting the rights and welfare of these children, agrees.

“We are afraid that many parents will get negative replies – because their kids don’t have five consecutive years in the country – maybe they left for a few weeks to visit their homelands; or maybe they were in kindergarten and not in first grade (in 2010-11). But today, these kids who were on this line are in first grade."

Charlotte is one of those children. The family’s original residency request was denied, due to the fact that Charlotte had not yet begun first grade. Today, however, Charlotte meets this requirement, the case is in appeals, and the family awaits a reply.

Sabine Haddad, spokeswoman for the PIA, sees these situations differently. “There needs to be a line,” she says. Those who meet the criteria receive residency status, she explains, while those who do not meet the criteria do not.

“The country took a special one-time decision. No other country does this,” she adds.

DEPORTATION OF children is a relatively new phenomenon, according to Galili, with the real effort on the part of the government beginning after the 2010 decision.

“Before this, there was an unwritten understanding that we don’t deport children,” she said. “But these children were born here, they don’t know English, they are not fluent in know their [parents’] native languages, they are educated in Israeli public schools.

Deporting them is just wrong – they have become part of Israeli society.”

Charlotte sits at a corner table, quietly painting on white paper. She wears a yellow T-shirt with the logo of Bialik Rogozin, the school where she now attends first grade. Rhoda sits on a small double bed, next to which is a small crib. Less than a meter and a half away is the kitchen counter, and in the other direction is a clothes cabinet with a collection of stuffed animals on top.

“Sometimes I speak to her in our language – in Tagalog – but she doesn’t answer me,” says Rhoda of Charlotte. “My kids know [of] the Philippines,” Rhoda says, “Charlotte will ask me ‘Mommy, is there pita in the Philippines? I don’t like to go to the Philippines, I don’t know what the Philippines is, mommy.’” Aeilon Alcantara, six, is another child whose residency request is being processed by the PIA. As with other families in this situation, the fate of the entire Alcantara family – Raquel, 37, and Marlon, 38, plus three-year-old sister Bleaud – remains unclear.

“Of course we pray that we get residency here,” says Raquel, who come from the Phillipines and works as a housekeeper, “not to be equal with Israeli children and Israeli people, but because I want to live a peaceful life for myself and for my children.”

Raquel’s voice wavers with emotion as she speaks. Like Rhoda, she says she simply wants the best for her children, and she knows that means staying in Israel. “I just hope it will be over [soon] because you do not know what to do, it is so difficult, especially if you are a parent.”

Daniel Solomon, legal adviser for the PIA, says it is precisely because of these types of situations that families who know they do not meet the criteria should leave of their own free will.

“When the child stays here longer, obviously it will be hard for him to return. Because of this, the decision is for the good of the children, to go back to their natural place and not stay in Israel where he is lacking rights.”

And while she agrees that it is the children who are falling victim to the fact that there is no clearly defined immigration law regarding foreign workers, Galili says it is not their fault.

“Until there is a law regarding immigration, the children should not pay the price for this.” She adds, “Our fight is for the children, and for the image of Israel, and how it treats the children.”


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