With policy in shambles, what’s next for migrants?

There are four possible solutions the state can try with regard to migrants after High Court tosses out extended detention.

African migrants transport vegetables in south Tel Aviv 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
African migrants transport vegetables in south Tel Aviv 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the state’s migrant policy in shambles following the High Court of Justice’s bombshell ruling on Monday, tossing out the idea of holding migrants in detention for three years to try to pressure them to leave the country “voluntarily,” the question on everyone’s mind is: What comes next? Below are four potential moves that the state may try:
Option 1: the “Migron” or “Haredi enlistment” strategy – meaning stall.
In August 2011, the state was ordered to evacuate the illegal Migron outpost by April 2012.
Due to various on-the-ground problems and ongoing “sudden” and “dramatic” developments leading to several short delays, the state postponed the evacuation until September 2012.
There are 2,000 migrant persons in detention and, thus far, nowhere to put them. Asking for two-to-three month delays, one at a time, while waiting for new-found solutions to an extraordinary problem – such as sending the migrants to Uganda or making progress on a new but unfinished bill – could buy significant time.
At the end of the day, the court does not have its own army to physically force the migrants’ release, and as long as the state says it plans to follow the court’s order but just needs more time, there is not much the court can do, at least for awhile.
This solution also plays into Supreme Court President Asher Grunis’s love for avoiding thorny issues by dragging out cases.
Technically, the now-invalidated law was set to expire in 15 months anyway.
If the state manages to drag the issue out for close to another 15 months, it might gain added time for new legislative efforts.
At least one justice, Neal Hendel, said he might have given the state 15 months to solve the issue because the dilemma is so complex.
Option 2: Pass the same law with six months or one year as the maximum detention period (as already proposed by the Legal Forum for Israel) instead of three years.
The gamble would be that Grunis and others will swing the court majority for the state. (Grunis and others said openly or hinted that they might support the same policy with a shorter maximum-detention period.)
Of course, options 1 and 2 could also be played out at the same time.
Option 3: Trying harder to get a third country to take the migrants.
The state has been trying to do this until now, via Egypt, Uganda and possibly others, but with limited success.
Maybe if it offers a poor/weak country greater economic and/or military assistance, this could be pulled off.
Option 4: New policies to integrate the migrants, but address some of the public’s concerns on an issue-by-issue basis.
Likud Beytenu MK Miri Regev, a strong voice on the issue, has already publicly toyed with the idea of “taking the hit” and moving on, by spreading the migrants all over the country so that they become a national responsibility that is more defused and not just a huge issue for south Tel Aviv.
Within this option there are many more pieces to play with and a spectrum of weaker restrictions that could be imposed on migrants.
The High Court mentioned the necessity for the state to keep track of them, limiting them to certain towns and geographic areas (but without being detained); requiring them to sleep in designated buildings, while letting them move freely during the day; helping some of them get jobs at the expense of foreign workers; heavier financing of local authorities to help them settle and adjust and increasing police presence in areas with large groups of migrants and stronger enforcement of labor laws.
The first solution is the most likely short-term answer, or hybrid answer along with one of the other options, because it has been Netanyahu’s style to delay in the hope that new circumstances would present new possibilities.
Also, no matter what the court said, the overall outlook of most political parties has not changed to embracing the migrants, and no one wants to be saddled with the unpopular position and the responsibility of being the one who decided they could stay. So, if no one is ready to decide to offer the migrants permanent residence, stalling could be the only alternative.
But this does not fundamentally address the issue, and at some point down the line, as with Migron, the court will lose patience and mandate a more final “drop-dead” date with penalties for non-compliance.
The second option has a strong chance because Grunis has essentially embraced it, and other justices have hinted at it, although several justices have completely rejected any detention regime. Therefore, another fight with the court could be risky business.
The third option could be less upsetting for all sides, but it just might not be realistic, no matter what the incentives.
Few countries would be more excited than Israel about absorbing a large group of African migrants.
Option four ends the legal problems, but again, it is not clear, even after the court ruling, if the public and enough politicians would be willing to accept it.
One thing is clear: while the court told the state emphatically what it cannot do, what the state will do is still a puzzle of epic proportions.