'Illegal workers turning to fake marriages to stay in Israel'

Civil rights group rejects Immigration Authority data, approach to problem.

chinese worker 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
chinese worker 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
About 70 percent of marriages in which one partner is an illegal worker turn out to be fictitious, Immigration Authority head Ya'akov Ganot told a Knesset Interior Committee hearing Tuesday morning. In recent months, Immigration Authority teams have begun following couples who are suspected of faking their marriages to arrange citizenship for either the "husband" or "wife," Ganot said. "We carry out stakeouts and tail people, and we found that out of a sample group of 102 couples that we followed, there were 72 instances of fictitious marriages," explained Ganot. Interior Committee Chairman MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) was skeptical of Ganot's approach, warning that "we all know in which countries the Interior Ministry follows people... I am not comfortable with these methods, because they have no transparency." The Association for Civil Rights in Israel cast doubts on the data presented by Ganot. ACRI attorney Oded Peler said that the specific couples who were tailed were probably suspected of being married fictitiously even before they were followed, and that they thus do not constitute a sample of all "mixed" couples. Peler added that his organization had already received complaints about the investigations run by the Immigration Authority. Ganot, presenting the most recent data gathered by his authority, told MKs that there are currently more than a quarter of a million work immigrants (those who came to Israel specifically for better job options), foreign workers and border infiltrators living in Israel at any given moment. According to Ganot, in recent years, the number of both legal and illegal foreign workers in Israel has increased significantly. In 2007, there were approximately 110,000 foreign workers with permits, and approximately 90,000 working without permits - the highest numbers measured since the beginning of the decade, Ganot said. Every year, approximately 5,000 workers are added to the pool of illegal workers, he added. "There is also an increase in the number of tourists who have 'forgotten' to leave Israel," said Ganot. A Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officer who attended the meeting added that there are "tens of thousands of illegal Palestinian workers whose presence creates an easy platform for terror organizations." Paz-Pines pointed out that since the Rubenstein Commission submitted its recommendations three years ago, the government had yet to formulate a clear policy regarding immigration and naturalization. In the meantime, the Illegal Workers Law, which would require illegal workers to go through a "cooling-off" period outside of Israel before being allowed to legalize their status in the country, met with stiff opposition in the committee hearing. The bill's opponents cited Supreme Court rulings and international accords that prohibit immoral treatment of refugees and harming the well-being of children and elderly people who are currently without legal status in Israel. "There is no question that Israel must solve the problem of the illegal workers, but it is not certain that that this proposed law reflects the necessary balances for a democratic state," said Paz-Pines, adding that he would hold an additional hearing including input from Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. Paz-Pines said that within a month, the committee would propose an alternate version of the bill that he feels would offer an appropriate response to the criticism heard during the hearing.