Legality vs. morality

Many of them are described as selfless, dedicated and devoted to their employers.

August 13, 2019 21:38
3 minute read.
Legality vs. morality

Filipino children protest their imminent deportation outside the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem, Israel. (photo credit: CASSANDRA GOMES HOCHBERG)

The cold, hard facts are laid out in Yonah Jeremy Bob’s analysis of the situation in Tuesday’s Jerusalem Post.

As he wrote, there is no real obvious, legal obstacle to deporting Filipino workers whose visas have expired. Israeli law does not include the concept of unlimited jus soli – the right of soil where one is born – which is the legal right of persons born in a place to enjoy citizenship there.

That’s how we arrived at the situation this week where Rosemary Perez, a Filipino woman who has worked in Israel for years, and her 13-year-old, Israel-born son Rohan were forcibly deported from the country.

They were sent away late Monday night, a day after a similar attempt was stifled at the last moment, when the mother created a commotion while being escorted on the plane and had to be removed. The two were held at a detaining facility at Ben-Gurion Airport until they were put on a Monday evening flight to Bangkok on the way back to Manila.

Perez and her son were not allowed to gather their belongings, take any mementos or say goodbye to their friends.

Rohan, a student at the Bialik Rogozin school in Tel Aviv, had been due to enter eighth grade. He and his mother were detained last week, part of a campaign initiated by the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority to track down and deport dozens of Filipino workers who had children in Israel but never renewed their visas.

Although they were born in Israel and many of them speak only Hebrew, none of the children have legal status in the country. In 2016, the ministry issued a regulation stipulating that if a woman residing in Israel as a foreign worker gives birth, she either has to send the child back to her country of origin or leave the country herself. In 2018, the ministry began enforcing the crackdown, ordering such families either to leave immediately or stay until the end of the school year and then leave.

The Perez case was heard by the Immigration Detention Review Tribunal, the Tel Aviv District Court and Supreme Court Justice Alex Stein; they all supported her deportation and that of her son. The law is on the ministry’s side.

The case prompted widespread debate about the legality versus the morality of uprooting a person who was born in Israel and had lived here for the first 13 years of his life, identifies as an Israeli, speaks Hebrew and attends a Hebrew-speaking school, and sending him to a country he has never been to.

Anyone who’s spent time in Israel has seen elderly people being aided by Filipino assistants, pushing their wheelchairs, taking them for walks and, inside the walls of homes, taking care of every aspect of their lives. Many of them are described as selfless, dedicated and devoted to their employers. And they are doing work that, frankly, other people are not interested in doing – and performing it better than anyone else could.

According to the Interior Ministry, there are more than 100,000 legal foreign workers and close to 17,000 illegal foreign workers currently in Israel. There are also more than 66,000 foreign nationals in the country whose tourist visas have expired, the overwhelming majority of whom – nearly 70% – are from the former Soviet Union, and whom the Interior Ministry believes are working here illegally.

Among these approximately 83,000 foreigners illegally in Israel, it is clear that most cases – about 63,000 – involve foreign workers, and every effort should be made to find them, detain them and deport them.

Every country has the right to determine its immigration policy and Israel is no exception. As a country, Israel can pride itself on having a sterling system of justice. But cases like Rosemary and Rohan Perez might be an exception worth considering. A child who was born in Israel, raised in Israel and only knows Israel, is not the typical case of an illegal foreign worker.

The lesson from this affair might be that even when the law is on the state’s side, sometimes it is not enough to be right – it is also important to be compassionate.

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