Israel Interior Ministry Plans Deportation of at Least 150 Families of Foreign Workers

Proposal would allow some families to stay in Israel, with others in limbo.

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The Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority is drafting a plan to deport 150 families of unauthorized foreign workers, apparently within a few months. An additional 240 families would be granted residency under the plan, while a third group of around 220 families who did not strictly meet residency requirements set by the cabinet would be permitted to appeal to an exceptions committee.

In August 2010, after the cabinet set criteria for receiving residency status, about 700 families of foreign labor migrants - 1,027 adults and their 1,035 children - applied for permission to remain in Israel legally. They have been waiting for answers since then.

Children of migrant workers at a protest in Tel Aviv, March 4, 2011 against the deportation of migrant worker's children from Israel. The banner reads,'Not murderers. Not thieves. Children.'Credit: Reuters

In March, Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced the suspension of the scheduled deportations of families with children studying in Israeli schools. At the same time, however, immigration authorities began to enforce deportation orders against families whose children were all under five years old and thus clearly did not meet the criteria for legal residence. As a result, about 50 families were deported.

A few months ago, the immigration agency submitted their recommendations regarding the residency applications to Yishai, who has not yet announced his decisions on the matter. It now appears that he will approve the recommendations.

Ministry officials said recently that Yishai is expected to reach a final decision within several days.

On August 1, 2010, the cabinet approved a resolution setting the criteria for remaining in Israel legally: Children who have been in Israel for at least five years and were graduating to first grade or higher as of the date of the resolution are eligible to stay. In addition, they must speak Hebrew, and if they were not born in Israel they must have arrived in Israel no later than their 13th birthday. Only children whose parents entered Israel legally are eligible to apply for residency.

A senior Interior Ministry official said in a recent conversation with Haaretz, however, that officials tried to be as lenient as possible when evaluating the applications. He said "great generosity" was used in selecting the families who would be allowed to plead their cases to the exceptions committee.

One person who hopes to have his family's application submitted to the exceptions committee is Vincent Ozuma from Nigeria, whose 6-year-old daughter Eustace is in the first grade at the Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv. When the cabinet resolution was passed last year, she was 5 and a half and about to enter first grade, but she remained in kindergarten for another year based on her teachers' recommendation.

"I hope our application isn't among those that were rejected," Ozuma said. "Eustace is doing very well at school. I wouldn't want to leave in order to go to a place where education is a privilege."

But the families who clearly meet the criteria also face difficulties: Although they are permitted to stay in Israel while their applications are being processed, they are prohibited from working.

"I submitted my request and tried to work a little in order to live and to care for my daughter, but my employer had to fire me after inspectors came to his home and gave him a fine," said Mary Antony, an illegal migrant from Ghana. She has been in Israel for 12 years and has a daughter who is in second grade.

"I and many others are waiting for answers, but we have to live, to eat, to pay rent, and for that you must work, but we aren't allowed," Antony said.

Antony, who is expected to receive a residency permit, fears that she won't be able to hang on long enough to reach that point. "I want to work in order to support myself and not be a burden, but people are afraid to hire us until we get legal status," she said.

Last week the Population and Immigration Authority announced that labor migrants who had worked at foreign consulates and embassies in Israel would be eligible to apply for legal residence.

The announcement was made during a High Court of Justice deliberation after a petition was filed by civil rights organizations on behalf of three families. Their requests will be reviewed not in the framework of the cabinet resolution regarding the legal status of migrant worker families, but rather in an interministerial committee for humanitarian affairs. The criteria for legal residence, however, will be identical to the criteria outlined in August 2010.

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