Twenty-four-year-old Eitan Wong speaks perfect Hebrew
, has spent three-quarters of his life in Israel
and is in his second year of studies at Tel Aviv University
. In just a little over a month, immigration authorities may deport him to his birthplace of Hong Kong
, from which his mother came to work in Israel illegally.
The same fate awaits 17-year-old Jose Escobar, a Grade 12 student at Tel Aviv's Rogozin High School. Five years ago, Jose and his younger sister arrived in Israel from Ecuador
to join their parents, who had been living and working in the country illegally for the past five years. Escobar told The Jerusalem Post
he has already completed half his matriculation exams.
These youths and dozens of others, some in scouts' uniforms, many of them from Rogozin High School in south Tel Aviv, filled the main courtroom of the Supreme Court on Sunday to a petition hearing which will have a profound impact on their immediate futures.
The petition was submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI
,) the Hotline for Migrant Workers and four Columbian-born offspring of foreign workers slated for deportation after a government deadline set for December 31 expires.
The deadline was part of a resolution passed by the government on June 26 setting down the conditions for granting the children of foreign workers and the immediate members of their family official residential status. According to the resolution, the offspring had to have been born in Israel and lived in the country at least 10 years, the parents had to have entered the country legally (even if they remained here illegally after their visas expired), and he must be studying or have studied in a public school and be fluent in Hebrew, so that his deportation from Israel would constitute "cultural exile." The resolution stated that any offspring of a foreign worker who did not meet all of these conditions would be deported as of January 1, 2006, together with the rest of his family.
The petitioners objected to two of the four conditions set by the government, including the demand that the offspring had to be born in Israel and that his parents had to have originally entered the country legally.
ACRI lawyer Michal Pinchuk argued that these two conditions had nothing to do with the emotional and cultural tie between the offspring and Israel. "The longer a person lives in the country, the more the links and feelings of belonging to that country proliferate," ACRI wrote in the petition. "As time goes on the emotional bond and sense of partnership between the individual and the state and its residents grows stronger until there develops a sense of mutual solidarity. There is no relevant difference on this matter between a child who is born in Israel and one who lives in Israel continuously since early childhood. And the same applies to a child whose parents entered the country illegally and one whose parents smuggled themselves into the country illegally before his birth."
The state's representative, Yochi Gnessin, charged that the petitioners wanted to change the Citizenship Law which is meant to limit the number of non-Jews who are allowed to settle in Israel. Gnessin also accused the petitioners of trying to hijack the government's prerogative to determine state policy by enabling large numbers of children and their families to receive residency status, thereby "changing the Citizenship Law into an Immigration Law."
Gnessin also accused the petitioners of trying to mislead the court by objecting to only two of the four conditions. Their real aim, she said, was to undermine the government resolution altogether. If the court accepted the petition and allowed children of foreign workers to obtain residency status even if they were not born in Israel and their parents arrived here illegally, ACRI and the Hotline would then try to eliminate the 10-year minimum residency requirement, she warned.
In fact, continued Gnessin, they were already doing so as could be seen in three appeals to the Supreme Court which the panel of seven justices heard later Sunday morning. Two of the appeals involved teenagers from Ghana
. One was brought to Israel by her father when she was 13, after her mother abandoned the family. Her father later died of cancer in Israel. The other girl arrived in Israel with her mother at 14. The mother later abandoned her. Both girls found adults to look after them. The government, however, wants to deport them to Ghana even though they have no family or friends there to raise them. ACRI and the Hotline have petitioned against the deportations, arguing that Israel is bound by international convention to protect them from harm.
The court did not hand down any rulings during the hearings. The petitioners asked for an interim injunction ordering the state not to expel any offspring of foreign workers after the December 31 deadline, until the court handed down its ruling on their petition. Gnessin said the state would agree to an interim injunction for any offspring who did not meet the government's residency conditions if they applied for a residency permit. The petitioners did not accept the state's condition, and no decision was made.