Myths about migrant workers

They don't simply take jobs; they can also generate economic growth.

Sudanese 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Sudanese 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
On July 1 the Interior Ministry's new "Oz" unit started deporting migrant workers. It intends to deport families with children born and raised here, and force refugees outside the center of the country. It chases workers down in the streets, day and night. And it justifies what it does with all sorts of lies and myths. Here are some of these myths. They take our jobs Between 1999 and 2000 the number of migrant worker climbed from 187,000 to 214,000, but unemployment went down from 8.9 percent to 8.8%. By the end of 2003, the number of migrant worker dropped to 189,000, but unemployment grew as high as 10.7%. By 2007 the number of migrant workers went up to 200,000, but unemployment fell to 7.3% What does this mean? It means that "migrant workers equal unemployment" is nothing but populist scapegoating. Migrant workers don't simply take jobs; they can also generate economic growth. A state whose economy grew while absorbing a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union (many of them retired or dependent on welfare and absorption funds) should know that immigration is an opportunity. Besides, if the state is really worried about unemployment, how come refugees are forced north of Hadera and south of Gedera, into the country's main unemployment hot spots? They're illegal, and should be deported Migrant workers aren't illegal. They are made illegal. Here's how it works. Migrant workers enter the country legally, with the state's invitation, because they're considered useful for the economy. Brokers charge them anything from a few thousand dollars to more than $20,000 to come here. This charge is illegal, but nobody hunts down the brokers and employers. These migrant workers are then paid less than minimum wage, but no one hunts down the people who underpay them. Sometimes there's no real job waiting for them, and sometimes they suffer conditions legally defined as slavery, but only a handful of cops are charged with catching the offenders. Underpaid or unemployed, migrant workers can't pay back the loans they took to come here, so they must find alternative jobs. But working for anyone other than their registered employer or job broker is considered illegal, despite a contrary High Court of Justice ruling. At this point enforcement comes in; 200 immigration inspectors are there to hunt them down and deport them. Migrant workers deported before they manage to repay the debt they took have their lives ruined. Sometimes they die by the hands of ruthless gray market lenders. Deportations are necessary to contain the number of migrant workers For more than a decade there have been around 200,000 migrant workers. That's true for years of mass deportations and years of lax enforcement alike. In fact, even during the peak deportations of 2003, when between 21,000 and 26,000 migrants were deported, 31,000 workers were allowed in legally. Current deportations are not meant to curb the number of migrant workers. In fact, the entry of an additional 20,000 workers has just been approved. Deportations are meant to replace migrant workers already here by new ones, who bring in more brokerage fees and are easier to exploit. Deportations are meant to terrorize migrant workers. It's "take what you're offered, or I'll call the police on you." Migrant workers are forced to give in to abuse and slavery; the economy grows at their expense, and the race to the bottom sweeps Israeli workers along, who also have to settle for less. It's the same in all countries Only a handful of developed countries exclude all migrant workers from residency and citizenship. Here a migrant caregiver can be employed legally for 20 years and still not be entitled to residency. Only one developed country other than Israel (Singapore) revokes the legal status of migrant workers who give birth. I know of no developed country other than Israel, where, if two migrant workers become a couple, one of them will lose his or her legal status. The Knesset has endorsed the first reading of a bill, which sentences any person who as much as gives a glass of water to a refugee to 20 years in prison. Italy has just attempted to pass a similar, although much less draconian law. But in Italy public outcry and common sense thwarted the threat of imprisonment. Where's our public outcry and common sense? Deportation inspectors treat migrant workers humanely Deportation inspectors treat migrant workers as disposable tools. But migrant workers are human beings, and human beings aren't disposable. If they're necessary for our economy, then they deserve to reap what they sow. They deserve to work here long enough to repay their debts and make money, and the few who wish to do so deserve to integrate into our communities. If the country refuses to integrate them, it shouldn't invite them in the first place. The government states that it is concerned with maintaining Israel's Jewish character. But I can't see what manhunts, deportations and treating humans as disposable tools has to do with Jewish values, culture or history. Today at 16:00, at the Armored Corps Memorial in Latrun, the deportation unit is having its public launch. Just outside, activists will launch their struggle against the oppressive deportation policy. Pick your side. The writer lectures at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa and volunteers at worker rights NGO Kav Laoved.