Dozens of parents and children demonstrated at the Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning opposite the cell where migrant worker Geraldine Esta and her two Israeli-born children are being held ahead of their deportation.
On Tuesday, Israeli Immigration Authority officials raided the Esta family’s home in Ramat Gan and arrested the mother and her children, Kiyan, 10, and Katherine, 5. They also detained another Filipina woman with her baby who had been in the house, and have transferred them to a prison in Beit Dagan.
Friends of the children demonstrating at the airport hope to prevent their deportation and lead to their release. “This is where my life is, my heart is Israeli,” the demonstrators shouted. They also chanted: “Dery, Dery, interior minister, don’t hurt children.”
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Rom Leitner said he has been friends with Kiyan for almost three years. “We like having fun together, hiking together, playing together. He’s Israeli just like me,” he said, adding that Kiyan should stay in Israel. “All the rights to which I’m entitled – he is too,” Leitner said.
Ro’it Leitner, Rom Leitner’s mother, was also present at the demonstration and said that classmates are worried about Kiyan and the family. She added that Kiyan was “born in Israel, and is Israeli for all intents and purposes. We should not lose our compassion, integrity and empathy. Israel is a moral country, or at least that’s what we teach our children,” she said. “The deportation would leave a huge hole in his classmates' hearts and raises many questions.”
Knesset member Ilan Gilon of Meretz came to the protest with his grandson. “The Israeli government has to wake up and cancel this shameful, immoral move,” Gilon said. “These children – for whom Israel is all they know – and their mothers are not damaged goods to be used and discarded.”
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Haya Mena, a lawyer representing the family, read a letter Kiyan wrote to his classmates: “I am Israeli and don’t want to go to the Philippines,” he wrote. “I want to stay in Israel and I love you. I don’t want to leave.”
Mena says she will be appealing the family’s deportation and has asked for a temporary order to halt any move until the appeal is heard. “I hope the court sees the special humanitarian circumstances and allows the family to stay in Israel,” Mena said. “Geraldine has been living in Israel for 14 years and her two children were born here. She was never advised that the state intends to deport them. She and her children cannot be dissociated from the life they created here.”
This is the second time this summer that the Interior Ministry has sought to implement deportation orders against a foreign mother with offspring born in Israel. On Sunday, a Filipina woman named Ofrecina Cuenca and her Israeli-born son Michael James were arrested in their home in Yehud. The family had appealed the decision to deport them.
On Tuesday, hundreds demonstrated next to the government complex in central Tel Aviv, which houses the Interior Ministry, protesting the Cuencas’ arrest. A Filipina woman told Haaretz: “We can’t sleep. Everybody’s afraid. The children don’t want to go outside. My child asked me not to go to work so I don’t get arrested. We were called over from our countries to work here. Don’t we deserve to have children? Aren’t we human beings? We don’t understand why the state is deporting us and bringing new [migrant] workers who will also have children ... What’s the logic?”
During July and August, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority plans to deport about 100 migrant workers from the Philippines as well as their Israeli-born children as the women’s work permits were not renewed after they gave birth. Last month, sources in the community projected that the number of deportations will be higher, while the authority on its part says the figure is in the dozens. Many of the children who were born here only speak Hebrew.