Israel's Top Court Orders State to Give Migrant Workers Enough Time to Prepare for Expulsion Hearings

'In light of the human complexity that arises in such cases, the migrants and their counsels should be given a reasonable chance to present their positions,' One justice says

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Demonstration in support of migrant workers and their families facing deportation at the Givon Prison, Ramle, Israel, October 31, 2019.
Demonstration in support of migrant workers and their families facing deportation at the Givon Prison, Ramle, Israel, October 31, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that the state must give foreign migrant workers subject to deportation, as well as their families, a suitable amount of time to prepare and competent legal representation for their expulsion hearing.

Justices Uzi Vogelman, David Mintz and Yosef Elron were critical of the Population and Immigration Authority’s practice of arresting migrant workers and ruling within hours that they are to be deported. The court’s decision came on a request for the Supreme Court to review the case of a family of migrant workers after a Tel Aviv administrative court refused to postpone their hearing.

“In light of the potential harm to minors as a result of their expulsion, it is necessary to ensure before a decision is made in their case that they and their parents are given a suitable chance to be heard,” the justices said in their decision, which was issued on Thursday.

A hearing on the deportation of a family of migrant workers, Tel Aviv District Court, 2019.Credit: Daniel Bar On

“We have found that, in light of the human complexity that arises in such cases, the [migrants] and their counsels should be given a reasonable chance to present their positions and to present factual arguments in support, all as required by the [Immigration] Authority’s obligation to provide a fair opportunity to present details and arguments before making a decision,” added Vogelman.

Up to now, the Population and Immigration Authority has been arresting migrant workers and their families and bringing them to offices at Beit Dagan near Tel Aviv or to Ben-Gurion airport, where they face a hearing in front of a border control official. After the hearing, unless the official has decided otherwise, an order is issued expelling them from the country and ordering them detained until their deportation.

According to the migrant support organization Hotline for Refugees and Migrants as well as lawyers who represent migrants, prior to their hearing, defendants would be given only hours to find legal counsel. In the case before the Supreme Court, the lawyers who filed the request to appeal – David Tadmor, Pri Ross, Rosa Lisnyansky, Shiri Katalan and Maya Covalove – said the population authority did not allow migrants to appropriately prepare for the proceedings, which affected their ability to present their case.

“[The case raises] questions of general importance regarding the procedural rules that apply to the hearings,” the justices wrote. They rejected the Population Authority’s position that it was possible to make the decision to deport the migrants and then afterwards hold hearings on the cases. The court did let stand the current procedure that allows lawyers to speak only at the beginning and end of a hearing.

The court noted that the migrants are a disadvantaged population that does not necessarily have access to legal representation, and the potential harm involved when “foreign subjects and their minor children who were born and grew up in Israel” are subject to possible deportation.

“The Supreme Court, with this decision, put an end to the Population and Immigration Authority’s invalid practice of ‘collecting’ children who were born and grew up in Israel, and their parents, and of trying to deport them from Israel from one day to the next, without the legally required hearing or legal representation,” said David Tadmor, one of the lawyers for the migrants.

A street in south Tel Aviv, a part of the city where many foreign migrant workers live, August 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants also welcomed the decision. “A [decision] cannot within a few hours of the moment of the arrest be made by an Immigration Authority clerk who knows nothing about the family’s special circumstances and who has not been presented with all of the documents in the case.”

In response to the ruling, the population authority said: “The court accepted the state’s position regarding the hearing process prior to issuing a custody and expulsion order and approved the Population and Immigration Authority’s customary practice that hearings for families be set in advance, while giving the illegal migrant the chance to prepare for the hearing, including obtaining legal counsel. In addition, the court accepted the state’s position that the discussion at the hearing be conducted without mediation vis-à-vis the illegal migrant,” a reference to legal counsel only speaking at the beginning and the end of the hearing.

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