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