By RON FRIEDMAN
The Interior Ministry's Oz task force, together with the National Insurance Institute's investigation branch, has recently embarked on an operation aimed at finding and deporting immigrants who entered the country under false documents.
The campaign, which started in the southern district, is expected to uncover thousands of cases of illegal immigrants, some of whom have been living in Israel for more than 10 years. Most came from the former Soviet Union.
"For some years now, there as been a branch of the Ministry of Interior responsible for verifying the identities of new immigrants from former Soviet countries," said Ami Atiya, Oz southern region commander.
"Their job is to identify people who provided false documents proving Jewish ancestry when they applied to make aliya and approach them to determine and regulate their status. Once approached many of the people go into hiding or change their identities, because they know they are here illegally. It is our job to locate them, bring them to hearings and deport them," he said.
According to Atiya, some of the people they have located have been living in Israel for 10 or 12 years, and even have children who serve in the army.
"In some cases deportation is a very sensitive matter, but it is important to note that we are operating according to the law. These people are illegal residents," he said.
Atiya explained that in many of the cases, the fraud involved borrowing or stealing another person's identity - a friend took the place of a family member and entered the country under his papers. In other cases, birth certificates were forged. "You have to remember it was a huge immigration wave, nearly a million people.
"In such masses some people will always swindle their way in," he said.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabin Hadad explained that Oz inspectors weren't the ones to determine the legal status of the immigrants, they were only implementing decisions that came after lengthy identity-verification processes.
"These are people whose citizenship has been revoked for years and the deportation process has only been initiated now, because Oz is up and running," she said.
The cooperation with the National Insurance Institute was necessary to locate the individuals involved. Many of the offenders, once approached to regulate their status, try to disappear; an effective way to find them is through their National Insurance claims, she said.
"The mere fact that these people receive allowances from the state is criminal," said Hadad. "This is your and my tax money. These people completely ignore the law. Their citizenship has been revoked. They are felons."
Atiya explained that locating and apprehending the fake immigrants sometimes required surveillance and detective work, but that when they are caught, they seldom made trouble.
"They know they are guilty and they know we can come for them. They have all been notified that their citizenship has been revoked and were given plenty of time to regulate their affairs. When we find them, we ask them to pack a bag and accompany them to our holding center. There they undergo a hearing and are taken directly to the airport for expulsion," he said.
When asked whether the wrongdoers would be required to pay the state back for the immigration benefits they received as part of their absorption grant, Hadad replied that while the ministry had taken several families to court, it was not interested in prolonging the illegals' stays for money it would likely never receive.
Hadad said that the operation had only just begun and would likely take months or years to complete.
"We started in the south, but this is a nationwide operation. We don't know precisely how many cases there are yet, but we estimate the number is in the thousands," she said.
She also pointed out that while the vast majority of the fake immigrants were from the former Soviet Union, there were also cases of people from other countries and that the operation was by no means targeting the Russian community.
When asked whether a legitimate new immigrant had anything to worry about and whether administrative mistakes could lead to the deportation of a genuine oleh, Hadad said that every case was meticulously investigated and in the process every suspected falsifier was confronted, so there was no chance an innocent immigrant would be deported.
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