Not illegal enough

Some 40 children of foreign embassy workers and refugees are caught in a legal loophole that prevents them from receiving permanent residency.

Like many Israeli students her age, Criselle, 16, is planning to travel with her class to Poland. Her journey isn’t absent of obstacles, however. Criselle, the daughter of Filipino workers, might be unable to re-enter Israel when she returns because she is without legal status.
Criselle is part of the approximately 1,200 children of illegal migrants who face possible deportation at the end of the school year. But she is a unique case amongst them – Criselle is one of 30 children who, in the past, weren’t illegal enough.
In the summer of 2006, when the Israeli government decided to grant permanent residence to some of the children of foreign workers and asylum seekers, Criselle’s parents rushed to apply. Criselle met all the criteria. She was raised here. She was above the cut-off age of four years and nine months. And, having attended Israeli schools all of her life, she was assimilated and acculturated.
But there was a catch.
Criselle’s parents, then employed by a foreign embassy, had legal status at the time. Her application was rejected because the window was opened only for the children of illegal foreign workers, not those who were living within the boundaries of the law. Eleven other families in similar circumstances – all Filipino, all employed by various embassies – received the same response.
Now the dozen Embassy Cases, as they are called, are making their way through the legal system as the families affected continue to wait for an answer.
Natalie Saraf-Raviv, the attorney representing Criselle and her family, says of the 2006 law, “The government decided that we can’t ignore the fact that these kids were born and raised in Israel and are a part of Israeli society.”
“What is the difference between a child who was raised here without a visa and those who have one [a visa]?” Saraf-Raviv continues. “[The government] wants to punish people who are here legally?”
“The state also has to take into account whether or not the children are part of Israeli society,” she remarks.
Saraf-Raviv, who is petitioning the Ministry of the Interior to issue Criselle a re-entry permit so she can go to Poland, emphasizes that these children are part of the country.
“There is no difference between an Israeli kid and foreign kids,” she says.
Criselle, who has recently completed an army preparation course and hopes to serve in the IDF, echoes this sentiment. Speaking to Metro at her family’s home outside Tel Aviv, she puts it simply:
“I am Israeli,” she says.
Criselle dashes out the door, telling her parents, in fluent Hebrew, her plans for the night. Their apartment resembles an Israeli home in other ways. There is a hanukkiah, a tanach, and there are kippot for Criselle’s father and brother – having been here for over 20 years, Criselle’s family has taken to celebrating the Jewish holidays.
DR. TALLY Kritzman, an assistant professor at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan and an expert on migrant labor, discusses the 2006 decision that granted permanent residency to some of the children of foreign workers and African refugees.
“The rationale was to prevent the harm caused to a child after he or she is uprooted from a country that feels like home, the only country with which he or she is familiar,” Dr. Kritzman says. “This rationale applies, obviously, to children of parents who had legal status.”
In addition to the Embassy Cases, African refugees who had temporary legal status were also barred from naturalizing their children, Dr. Kritzman adds.
Dr. Kritzman explains that the requirement of illegality stems from the state’s “fear of numbers.”
“[It’s] a fear that a generous policy would burden Israel with large numbers of people to whom it will have to give status,” she says. “However, the numbers are extremely small, especially when we talk about children of parents who have legal status.”
SUSAN RECALLS with a laugh that she was something of a child herself when she left the Philippines over two decades ago, at the age of 16. Now 42, Susan and her husband, John, have two children, aged 19 and 8. Like Criselle, both boys were born in Israel. And both were denied permanent residency in 2006 because their parents were legal at the time.
The family is another Embassy Case.
John, who still has a visa, says, “Israel treats the kids as though they are strangers, but they are not strangers. They are born here and raised here.”
The eldest son is the most troubled about being denied legal status.
“All of his friends are in the army,” John comments. “It’s hard for him to understand why he’s not, too.”
Katrina, the mother of a 15-year-old girl and 8-year-old boy, looks toward the end of the school year fearfully. Because she and her husband recently lost their legal status when the ambassador they worked for left, the family could face expulsion. An Embassy Case, they are waiting for the judges’ decision that will decide their fate.
“[Deportation] is easier for the adults,” Katrina says. “Our concern is about the children.”
Katrina’s son is quiet and a bit shy. He doesn’t say much – just that his favorite holiday is Purim, that he likes playing soccer with his friends, and that his favorite subject in school is English.
When asked if she wants to stay in Israel, Katrina’s teenage daughter replies, “Yes, please.”
“I want to go to the army and study here,” she says, adding, “And I don’t know the Filipino language.”
Their mother, listening in, remarks, “When we applied in 2006, [theMinistry of the Interior] told us we couldn’t get [permanent residency]because we were legal. Now we are illegal. We are hoping that thismeans we’ll get it.”
But if Katrina, Criselle, and the other Embassy Cases don’t getpermanent residency, Saraf-Raviv, who says that this is a humanitarianissue, is prepared to go to the Supreme Court.
“If you let a foreigner come, you have to let them live – that includes having kids,” Saraf-Raviv says.
Ministry of the Interior spokesperson Sabine Haddad did not respond to numerous requests for comment.