Only two days after the school year ended, an Israel-born six-year-old girl was arrested along with her mother, a migrant worker from the Philippines, ahead of their deportation.
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This is the first time a child at such a young age, which is attending kindergarten and is a part of the education system, is arrested to be deported. The Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority asked to clarify that they had waited for the school year to end before carrying out the arrest.
A.J. Mathias finished kindergarten on Friday and was planning to start first grade in two months. Her mother, Annalyn, had come to Israel legally, but lost her work permit when she had a baby.
Nearly two years ago, the government agreed to give residency status to migrants' children and families, in accordance with criteria set by an inter-ministerial committee. The criteria was that the child had to have entered Israel before the age of 13 and to have been in the country for at least five years; that he or she was going up to first grade or higher on the day the decision was made; that the child knew Hebrew and that the parents had entered Israel legally and only subsequently lost their legal status.
To date, 257 families were granted status in accordance with the committee decisions. 183 requests were denied since the criteria was not met. Applications of some 260 families are still pending decision after it was decided they will be reviewed by an exceptions committee, overseen by Interior Minister Eli Yishai. No decision, however, has yet to be made.
A.J.'s family has never applied for status, since two years ago, on the qualification date decided by the government, she was too young to meet the criteria. Today she would meet the criteria, however now she will not be given a chance to apply. She, as hundreds like her, is now facing deportation.
Aid organizations accuse Yishai of dragging his feet and of refusing to decide for almost two years what will be the fate of the families which applied for a legal status. Given the time that has passed, many children who did not meet the requirements back then, do now. 18 months ago Yishai agreed to put off the enforcement on migrant families with children who were in school, so they could finish the school year "out of sensitivity and utmost attention," as he explained. However, since then, he has taken no action against them.
When the criteria was publicized, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar praised Yishai for agreeing not to deport children who were in the education system. On Sunday, the Israeli Children NGO, along with other activists, demonstrated in front of Sa'ar's house in Tel Aviv demanding him to step up on behalf of some 400 children in the school system who now meet the old criteria.
Israeli Children activist Rotem Ilan said that he expects Sa'ar to "keep fighting for those 400 children that, as he declared, must stay in Israel, their land of birth." Ilan sees the arrests as "a transparent and wicked attempt by the interior minister to pull the wool over the public's eyes, that way the public will think he is dealing with the migration problem in Israel."
The immigration authority said in response that A.J. had never requested a status, and because she didn't meet the criteria at the time, there was nothing to prevent her arrest.