Hundreds gathered in front of Ministry of Interior offices in Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest the deportation of families whose petitions for residency permits were rejected.

The protest, which gathered near Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square and marched on to the government office building across the Street from Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Center, was made up of social activists and other concerned Israelis, but mostly of migrant workers and their families carrying signs reading “I have no other country,” “There is no such thing as an illegal child,” “Israel my home,” and “Yishai – let us stay.”

Last week the Population and Immigration Authority began sending out responses to appeals for permanent residency filed over a year and a half ago. This week dozens were informed that they received the long awaited permits, while others were told that their requests were rejected and that they must leave Israel.

Up to now, families whose appeals were rejected were those whose children finished school a year after the government decision on migrant workers. They were given 15 days to appeal the decision.

Several children awaiting decisions on their own status are speaking at the event, including Ilan Milan, who will be celebrating his tenth birthday on Sunday, and Janel Pancho, who fought to go with her fellow classmates to Poland.

“Instead of living a regular and peaceful life, we are in a constant battle to avoid deportation, in a constant battle to keep it together. Nothing done in this case makes any sense. You don’t have a clue how hard and painful this is. We have no choice but to wear a smile on our face and continue fighting. Knowing that someday, you may be separated from your home, your friends, everything you know – is an indescribably awful and terrifying thought,” Pancho said.

Rotem Ilan of the non-profit organization Israeli Children that has been leading the opposition against the deportation, said today “When I think about Ilan, who will be speaking at the demonstration my heart breaks,” Ilan says, “A ten-year-old should have his birthday with his friends, celebrating having fun."

"Instead, this wonderful Israeli boy has been living his life in the past three years under a constant fear of arrest and imprisonment. 700 children aren’t the problem; they are just an easy way for Yishai to mislead the public and hide the fact that he himself is responsible for the revolving door policy and employment contractors’ domination of the field. It is an embarrassment that a child like Ilan has to pay the price,” Ilan added.

Gina Dossil and her son Angelo, who received there Israeli IDs this week, came to express their support for the cause. “We are so happy that we no longer have to fear arrest, and that we can at last breathe a sigh of relief."

"But there are still families that need to get a recognized status. And that is why we came today – for them,” said Dossil, who was one of the first to get a positive response from the government. “Once we left the Interior Ministry, we called the family back at the Philippines to tell them that at last we will be able to go and visit them. At last Angelo will be able to meet his family – a family he never met.”

The Population and Immigration Authority received 701 appeals for permanent residency in accordance with the government’s decision concerning the residency of families of migrant workers with Israeli born children, from August 2010.

According to the decision, children in school on the day the decision was made will receive permanent residency along with his parents as long as the child speaks Hebrew, was born in Israel or has lived in it for at least five years, and whose parents entered Israel legally.

Amongst the appeals filed, 65 were rejected off the bat. A year and a half later the authority announced that 257 families will receive permanent status, 118 will be departed after it was determined that they don’t meet the requirements, and 260 will be reviewed by a committee including 60 families whose children were in kindergarten when the government decision was made.

It is worth mentioning that the committee is headed by Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, who also approved the decisions already made.