Children of migrant workers in south Tel Aviv protest.
Children of migrant workers in south Tel Aviv protest. Photo by David Bachar
Text size

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday addressed the expected cabinet discussion on the legal status of migrant children's workers, saying that on the one hand, Israel wants to adopt these "little children." But on the other hand, Israel mustn't create an incentive for "hundreds of thousands to come to Israel," he added.

The cabinet was scheduled to discuss the recommendations of an interministerial committee on the issue. The recommendations will likely be put to a vote at a later date, however. The children in question are either Israeli-born or have spent a large portion of their childhood in Israel, but their legal status in the country is in question.

"The issue touches on two things," Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting. "One is humanity, and the other is a Jewish and Zionist state."

"We have here little children who grew up here and went to school here. They are a part of us. We are looking for ways to absorb them and take them into our hearts. However, we don't want to create an incentive. We want to preserve the Jewish democratic majority that allows us to maintain a Jewish democratic state," Netanyahu declared.

The prime minister explained that "it is now the time to hear the recommendations and make decisions. I hope that we make balanced decisions and that by next week, if not today, we will have completed the discussion and the decision making."

Amnon Ben-Ami, head of the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority, and other panel members are set to explain to the ministers how the committee reached its conclusions. In their recommendations, they call for children to be permitted to stay in Israel if they arrived here before the age of 13, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years and are enrolled in state primary or secondary schools. Younger siblings of children meeting these criteria will also be permitted to stay in Israel.

Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman has said he will demand an extension of the filing deadline as well. Families presently have 21 days, which he is seeking to increase to 90 days after the cabinet passes a resolution on the issue. Anyone who does not meet the criteria will be given 30 days to leave Israel voluntarily.

Braverman expressed concern that "the unreasonable bureaucratic obstacles" could prevent eligible children from obtaining legal status. He added that care must be taken to ensure that families who have already begun the application process are not deported.

Braverman is also seeking to extend eligibility to those children set to start kindergarten in September. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he agreed with Braverman, adding that a mechanism must be in place to evaluate, "from a humanitarian perspective, special cases that do not meet the criteria."

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer intends to tell his fellow cabinet ministers that the state does not have the moral right to deport even a single child. "We must keep all of these children here," he said, "alongside preventing unauthorized workers and infiltrators from entering. We must also behave from now on with an iron fist."

Yossi Edelstein, who heads the migration authority's foreign workers' enforcement unit and serves as chairman of the committee, said that in drawing up its recommendations the panel sought to ensure that humanitarian needs were met. "We composed balanced recommendations and even eased the criteria [in comparison to] the resolution from 2006," Edelstein said.

Keren Turner, the internal coordinator of the Finance Ministry's budget department, emphasized that every committee member was there "independently, and not as an envoy of a cabinet minister." She said that while at the start it was clear that the finance, justice and interior ministries sought to make the criteria for remaining in Israel as tough as possible, and the education and welfare ministries sought to ease the criteria, "things changed over the course of our work."

"It was important for us to discuss and decide rather than to arrive at recommendations with a vote, and I think we reached a proper balance that every representative can accept and stand behind," Turner said. "All that remains now is to hope for government support from here on out, as well as enforcement so we won't require another committee in a few more years."