Looking for loopholes

Many of the 400 children of foreign workers who didn’t make the government’s cut face a daunting struggle to remain in Israel.

Foreign worker kids deportation (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Foreign worker kids deportation
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Following a cabinet decision on Sunday that will see 400 foreign workers’ children – and family members – deported, hundreds of these would-be Israelis found themselves in a state of shock mixed with panic, hoping they could find a loophole to allow them to stay.
Many of those affected, in fact, are no longer “children.” They are older teenagers or young adults who were looking to build their lives in the country that – even if they were born elsewhere – is the only home they can remember.
In his family’s modest apartment in the Bnei Brak neighborhood of Pardes Katz, Edward “Eddy” Kasian was crestfallen and “overcome with stress” on Monday, speaking to the Hotline for Migrant Workers and hoping that somehow a solution could be found to let him stay in Israel.
Exasperated, his mother Galina said Monday that the family “is trying to be calm, even taking pills to relax. It has been a very serious two days and this is the second time we’ve taken such a serious blow.”
Nineteen-year-old Eddy has spent the last year since graduating high school bouncing from one menial job to another, the best he has been able to do since he can’t get the documents he needs that would help him find better work.
In the meantime, he’s stayed close to home with his parents and 12-year-old sister Dana, hoping to hear some good news about whether or not he can stay in Israel, his home since he was 11.
On Sunday, he found out he will soon have to leave the country he loves, for a country he hardly remembers, whose language he hardly speaks.
Dana, who has been in Israel only three years and is an aspiring track and field star at the neighborhood youth athletic center, would also be forced to leave.
Born in Moldova, Eddy came to Israel with his mother in 2002 as tourists and basically overstayed their visas. Galina found work and the two settled in Pardes Katz, with his father and younger sister following five years later. According to Galina, his maternal great-grandmother was Jewish but converted to Christianity at a young age, and as a result the Interior Ministry does not consider them eligible for citizenship even under the relatively liberal clauses of the Law of Return.
In 2006, the cabinet voted to grant permanent residence status to around 900 children of foreign workers and asylum-seekers who had spent at least five years in Israel. At the time, Eddy was three months short of being eligible. Now Eddy is again ineligible to stay, because he finished high school a year ago.
Eddy speaks flawless Hebrew with the easy, confident- beyond-his-years style typical of Israeli teens, and looks no different than any Israeli his age on the streets of Pardes Katz, where he has a large circle of Israeli friends, both Russian and native-born.
At an age when young people start planning for adulthood in the context of their lives to date, Eddy will now have to set off for an uncertain future in Moldova, where he has no friends and barely any sense of the place.
“There is so much stress that comes with this, you feel a part of this country, and then they tear away the only place where you feel you belong,” he explained.
“All my friends are going into the army and of course I want to be there with them, to contribute to the state and to test myself. I just assumed that it would work out by now.”
Instead of serving in the IDF, Eddy may now be forced to serve one-and-a-half years in the army of a country he doesn’t regard as his own.
Eddy had dreams of going to college to study communications, and eventually finding a job working in broadcast media, a dream that is now being deferred indefinitely.
“I don’t regret that we moved to Israel, but sometimes I do think my parents may have made a mistake,” Eddy said last Friday, when his status was still unclear.
“This has broken all of my dreams,” he added.
He hasn’t given up, however: he plans to submit his story to the appeals committee that’s slated to be formed under the cabinet’s decision, and expressed hope that he will still be allowed to stay.
IN SOUTH TEL AVIV on Monday, 17-year-old Julio Antonio Hurca said he was “very worried, but doing okay,” though the cabinet decision on Sunday means his days in Israel are almost certainly numbered.
Hurca was born in Israel to a Chilean father and an Argentine mother who worked for several years as a nanny for the family of employees of the French Embassy in Jaffa. Julio’s mother, Mercedes, arrived in Israel in 1990 with a diplomatic work visa that was valid until 2006.
Hurca is one of only a handful of the 400 youngsters who stand to be deported based on a single stipulation in the recommendations that makes the children whose parents were part of diplomatic missions here ineligible for permanent status.
Over the last few months, while his friends have been enjoying their summer, Julio has spent much of the time indoors with his mother, helping her deal with the constant stress brought on by their situation and dodging the immigration police in their home near the central bus station.
In his spare time, the powerfully built 17-yearold focuses on his hobby, weightlifting.
He has a large circle of friends in Israel, a mix of “normal,” native-born Israelis, and children of mixed and largely foreign backgrounds like himself.
Since he was a young child, he has spent a great deal of time with an elderly couple, Yaakov and Tova Nitzahon, who were sort of “surrogate grandparents” for him.
The Nitzahons were Holocaust survivors from Greece and spoke Ladino, so they were able to converse with Julio in broken Spanish. Yaakov passed away two years ago, but Julio still manages to visit Tova, whose world has recently been clouded by Alzheimer’s.
Ahead of the cabinet decision, Julio said of his only visit to Argentina at age 5, “I didn't feel like it was my place. I feel Israeli, my friends are mostly Israeli and this is where my life is. I have some family there, but my place is here.”
Without either Argentine or Israeli citizenship, Julio says he finds himself in a situation that even the Israelis he’s close to don’t understand.
“The only people who are suffering in this situation are us, the people who aren't allowed to live their lives freely. I think they don’t understand and they don’t want to think about it.”
THE CABINET decision came as a shock to Alejandra Lopez, 24, who finds herself falling through the bureaucratic cracks for the second time – again due to a difference of six months.
Alejandra was born in the town of Armenia in central Colombia and was raised by her mother after her father abandoned them. She arrived in Israel from Colombia when she was 14, to live with her mother who had arrived six years earlier as a foreign worker, leaving Alejandra in the care of extended family.
When she arrived in Israel, Alejandra enrolled in public school and by the time the 2006 government decision was made, she was six months past her 14th birthday, and thus not able to receive permanent residency status according to the stipulations of that decision.
Now, Alejandra finds herself in a similar situation: Her four-and-a-half-year old son Lior Adriel, who was born in Israel to Alejandra and her Ecuadorian husband, Fernando Corella, is six months short of being eligible – and making them eligible – for permanent residence status under the new decision.
On Monday, after finding out she was again missing a chance to gain permanent residency, Alejandra was reeling from a mixture of heartbreak and déjà vu.
“We are very sad, very upset and looking wherever we can to see if there is anything we can do,” Alejandra said.
Lopez described her looming return to Colombia as plagued by the uncertainty that comes with moving to a place that has changed – just as she has over the past 10 years.
“It’s a very different life here than in South America. My mom was here for 12 years and by the time she went back the place had changed and so had she. If I go back it will be a brand new place for me and I will have to start all over, just like my boy will,” Lopez said, adding that Lior Adriel speaks only a little Spanish and has a much better future in Israel.
Lior Adriel also attends Israeli day care and all of his friends are Israeli, Alejandra said, adding that she and her husband have not yet broken the news to their son.
The situation for Alejandra and her husband is further complicated by the fact that Corella may not be able to leave Israel with his wife and son if they are deported.
Before he met and married Alejandra, Corella had a child with an Israeli girlfriend whom he met abroad. He later moved with her to Israel, where they broke up. The mother of Corella’s daughter has gotten a restraining order, forbidding him to leave the country, to ensure that he pays child support.
When asked what she’ll miss most about Israel, Alejandra mentioned her friends, most of whom are Israeli. She also said she’d miss going to the beach, traveling up north to the Kinneret, and the Dead Sea, “all the things everyone else does here.”
“It’s very difficult to think it’s coming, it doesn’t go into my head, I just keep thinking that I must be able to do something. I’ve built all these things over these years and to pick up and leave after a month is just terrible.”