Migrant worker protest
Children of migrant workers protesting in Jerusalem, April 17, 2010. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi / BauBau
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The inter-ministerial committee tasked with examining the status of migrant workers' children is scheduled to submit its report this week to Interior Minister Eli Yishai. The panel is expected to recommend that the government grant permanent-residence status to children who have been living in Israel for more than five years and are currently enrolled in the state education system. If the interior minister accepts the report's proposals, Israel will have taken advantage of an opportunity to rectify a long-standing injustice.

The 1,200 children of migrant workers who receive instruction at Israeli kindergartens, elementary schools and high schools, who read and write in Hebrew and who celebrate national holidays, have no other country to call home. They are Israelis in the fullest sense of the word, and they must not be punished because their parents came here as migrant workers rather than as full-fledged immigrants under the Law of Return.

The committee, which is comprised of technocrats with backgrounds in education, welfare and law, has been operating under difficult conditions. On the one hand, it must contend with a government that imports foreign workers. On the other, it must deal with that same government that is waging an aggressive and vicious public-relations campaign using racist and harmful terminology that would be viewed as illegitimate in any enlightened country.

In light of these constraints, one can understand the overcautiousness with which the panel's members are approaching the issue. As reported in yesterday's Haaretz, the committee will recommend granting permanent-resident status as a "one-time, humanitarian measure," while the stipulations cited in the panel's report will not be expanded so as to prevent more children from entering Israel. Nonetheless, the wording of this statement is a bad omen because it lends a new seal of approval to the government's unwillingness to adopt a clear-cut immigration policy and to its preference to deal with the problem on the fly.

Israel, a country that imports tens of thousands of workers for legal employment in construction, agriculture and services, has proved fertile ground for a cottage industry of money-hungry middlemen in this country and abroad. These people exploit the weakness of foreigners and accelerate their entry into the Israeli workforce as "illegal" migrants without any rights, all the while being marked for deportation. The government, which allows this industry to flourish by claiming ignorance, is harassing those same migrant workers who have put down roots here and bound themselves to Israeli society (dozens of migrant workers' children serve in the Israel Defense Forces ). The whole time, the government uses despicable methods to persecute the migrants.

Israel must shed its parochial paranoia by developing a cogent and humane immigration policy that fulfills the biblical commandment as it relates to foreigners: "And he shall be as one that is born in the land."