Fear of small children

What would Herzl have said about the dangling sword of deportation? His answer would surprise you.

filipino migrant women 311 (photo credit: Mya Guarnieri)
filipino migrant women 311
(photo credit: Mya Guarnieri)
Let me tell you about Angelo and Jeremiah. Angelo and Jeremiah are both just over five years old. Angelo and Jeremiah were both born in Israel. Angelo and Jeremiah both speak Hebrew, and can barely understand their parents’ languages, those spoken in the Philippines and in a small West African country. They are both being raised here by their mothers, who entered Israel legally, and go to an Israeli preschool. But within a month, Angelo is likely to be deported, and Jeremiah might get residency.
After a long public struggle, a committee established by the government to decide the fate of non-Israeli children living among us has made its recommendation. On Sunday these recommendations are likely to be approved by the government. Among the recommended criteria it is stated that only children who are registered for first grade or higher will be eligible for residency. But Angelo is small for his age, and is supposed to stay another year in kindergarten, whereas Jeremiah is already registered for first grade. According to the arbitrary sword of bureaucracy, Angelo will be deported.
But Jeremiah won’t be in a mood for celebrations. His mother and father are both here, but are divorced. According to the recommended criteria, in such cases the father will be deported. The heavy sword of bureaucracy has decided that Jeremiah must part with his father as well as his friend Angelo. They will be deported.
Let me tell you about Maria, who was also born and raised here to non-Israeli parents. She is now 22 years old. She lives here with her mother and her one-year-old child. But the committee recommends that only children between the ages of five and 18 will be eligible for residency. So Maria is too old, and her son is too young. They will be deported.
Out of 1,200 children of non-Israelis living here only a few hundred will meet the age criteria. But the committee’s criteria are designed to get as many of them as possible deported. The committee recommended that the parents will be allowed just 21 days to put together the many documents required for a residency application.
This is usually not enough even to extend a passport, which is one of the committee’s requirements. Those who won’t make it in time, those who lost their original entry documents from many years ago, those who don’t have embassies here, will all be excluded according to the recommended criteria. These children will all be deported.
The committee also recommends that if any document is missing or not quite up to the required standards, the applicants will not be allowed to resubmit, correct or complement the application. The slightest bureaucratic glitch will unleash the wrath of the bureaucratic blade upon them. These children will be deported.
This last recommendation exposes the intent behind the committee’s policy. It wants to appear humanitarian, it wants to appear as if it’s acknowledging the right of children to live where they were born and raised, as do many countries across the world (including the United States). But it only wants it for appearance’s sake. Unreasonable age brackets, arbitrary bureaucratic restrictions and a process designed explicitly to fail applicants, all combine to make sure that the number of successful applicants will be reduced to a couple of hundred at the most. This is not even bureaucracy, this is simply hypocrisy.
BUT CHILDREN are not the only ones under the sword of deportation. Two legally employed migrant workers, Charlene Ramos and Judser Maclenda, from the Philippines got married on June 6. On June 14 the Immigration Police were at their door, asking which of them prefers to be deported. The thing is that migrant workers who get married here can’t keep their jobs. If they fall in love, they will be deported.
And then there’s Ms. Amon. She has legally served as a caregiver here for 17 years. The rule is that since patients can seriously deteriorate if their caregivers are replaced, caregivers are often allowed to stay as long as their patients live. I know of no country that would refuse granting residency to a person who worked there legally for 17 years, and whose life is completely centered there. No country, that is, except for Israel. Ms. Amon too will be deported.
Many people are concerned that giving residency to 1,200 children of migrant workers and a few faithful long-term caregivers will threaten the character of Israel as a Jewish state. But I don’t see which Jewish value is served by deporting children whose parents were allowed to stay here, and who know no culture or society other than this one. I don’t see the Jewish value protected by throwing away a person who was good enough to serve us for 17 years.I don’t see why Angelo, Maria, Mr. Maclenda and Ms. Amon should be deported. All I see is an unfounded fear of foreigners and small children.
Maybe we should ask ourselves what Herzl would have said. Well, he stated his case clearly. In his famous Altneuland, he reaches an unequivocal conclusion: Those who work with us for at least two years and accept our laws must be allowed equal membership in our society, regardless of religion. Today, we ask us for far less, but the government gives in to an irrational fear of small children.
The government should rethink immigration policy. The current committee recommendations concerning children of migrant workers must be relaxed in terms of age limits and bureaucratic obstacles. A committee for special cases must be established.
Let’s not give in to this ludicrous fear of small children. Come demonstrate with us this Saturday evening in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park, meet the children yourselves, and demand from the government to let them stay with us, where they belong.
The writer is a lecturer at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and an activist at NGOs Kav La’oved and Israeli Children.