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Last Thursday, the campaign to file requests for residence status on behalf of children of foreign workers ended. For years, Israel managed to skirt the grim moment when families with children would be deported. Now that moment appears closer than ever. It will soon be clear who is entitled to stay and who has been denied residence, but whom the state is justifiably reluctant to deport. Yesterday, Population Administration spokeswoman Sabine Haddad reported that the administration intended to launch a new campaign to encourage families to leave voluntarily. Examination of residence requests will continue until the end of November. Then, every family will be permitted 45 days, after receiving notice of the denial of their request, to leave voluntarily.

But there will still be delays. First, it is reasonable to assume that rejected families will appeal to Population Administration director Sassi Katzir. Appeals will also be considered in an interministerial committee on humanitarian issues. The number of appeals to be considered in bimonthly committee meetings will undoubtedly soon cause a backup, and, then, we can expect a wave of appeals in Administrative Court.

Some appeals will involve ambiguous cases. But hopeless cases will also be presented - like those of infants and toddlers who do not meet the age six minimal criterion for residence. Why would parents of preschool children appeal? Because they have nothing to lose. In another six months, when proceedings are complete, no one will choose to deport families in the middle of the school term. Ando so, the next target date for deportations appears to be next July.

Chief Immigration Authority Officer Brigadier General Ezra Aharon responds, "At this stage, the authority is taking no initiative in enforcing actions against illegally resident families." According to him, when the state issues an order to begin deportations, "The Immigration Authority will coordinate operations with all other authorities."

821 families

By the final date on Thursday, 821 families of foreign workers filed requests for residence in Israel. These requests include 900 children and another 1,450 family members (adults and siblings who do not meet criteria). A total of 460 of these families filed during the first campaign, which ended in March, 2006, and only 361 families filed for the first time during the current campaign.

Most requests came from families from the Philippines, the Ivory Coast and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The number of Filipino families who filed requests is less surprising: It is relatively easy for Filipinos, who typically care for elderly and chronically ill Israelis, to make connections with other foreign workers. In contrast, those who hail from the Ivory Coast are not foreign workers but refugees who have lived in Israel for a long time. Foreign workers from the CIS represent a relatively unknown phenomenon. They quickly assimilate into the legal immigrant community from the CIS and are, therefore, less prominent.

Citizens of Ethiopia, Columbia, Turkey, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany also filed requests. A devout Christian family from the U.S. with nine children - seven of them born in Israel - was among those who filed.

To date, 116 requests have been approved and 50 have been denied. Children must meet the following criteria: Arrival in Israel before age 14; at least six years of continuous residence; parents entered Israel with a valid visa; the child speaks Hebrew and studies or studied in an Israeli school. Parental visas were required to thwart permanent residence of Arab children whose parents came to Israel from the Palestinian Authority. Other criteria strive to identify children as "real Israelis" and avoid deportations that would represent cultural exile. The conditions of the former campaign were stricter: Only children born in Israel who were at least 10 years old were granted residential status.

Children whose requests are approved will be granted permanent residence; their family members will be granted temporary residence. "Children" who served in the Israel Defense Forces for at least a year will be granted citizenship, and their family members will be granted permanent residence.

Draw the line

Last Tuesday, the Foreign Workers Committee met to discuss the new school term as it affects children of foreign workers. The current campaign was naturally mentioned. Yossi Edelstein, director of the Population Administration enforcement unit, which addresses foreign workers, was asked what would happen to a family whose daughter lacked only two weeks of the six-year continuous residence criterion. "If there is only a two-week deviation - we are not that obstinate," he responded. "If it involves more than a month or two, where will we draw the line?" To summarize Edelstein's comments, someone who has been in Israel for five years and nine months does not stand a chance of receiving residential status.

The Knesset Research and Information Center presented a document to the committee that includes data pertaining to children of foreign workers and their unique problems. According to this document, in 2004, there were 2,000 children of foreign workers in Israel. Since then, some of the families left fearing deportation. The document includes updated, yet-to-be published data gathered by doctoral candidate Anabel Lifszyc-Friedlander of Tel Aviv University. These statistics maintain that 1,500 children of foreign workers now reside in Israel: 720 of them were enrolled in the education system last year and another 730 are at least 5 years old.