Filipina and Her 12-year-old Israeli-born Son Released Ahead of Deportation Hearing

Judge's ruling points at 'substantial defects' in the deportation process of Ofresina Koanka, whose work visa lapsed in 2007 when she became pregnant

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Michael James and his mother, Ofresina Koanka, on their release.
Michael James and his mother, Ofresina Koanka, on their release from detention, July 28, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

An Israeli custody tribunal judge on Sunday ordered a migrant worker from the Philippines and her son released in advance of a deportation hearing scheduled for next week, criticizing the authorities' handling of the case.

Ofresina Koanka and 12-year-old Michael James were arrested a week ago as a first step in their deportation process. But the Givon Prison custody judge Raja Marzouk ruled that they should be released after he found that there were "substantial defects in the hearing process and in the decision-making in their matter."

Koanka is one of around 100 Filipina women facing immediate deportation, following a controversial government crackdown. Her case has raised further concerns because her son, whose first language is Hebrew, had been due to enroll in a 7th grade special education program in the fall.

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Judge Marzouk took note of professional opinions describing the boy's emotional, cognitive and medical problems and stated that his "continued detention would disproportionately harm the detainees' liberty" and "inflict medical damage that at this stage does not serve the purpose of detention."

Immigration enforcement agents raided Koanka's home ion Yehud, east of Tel Aviv, before dawn on July 21. Koanka, who arrived in Israel in 2000 on a work visa, was employed as a custodial nursing care worker when she became pregnant with her son, leading to the automatic lapse of her work visa.

In March of this year, an order was issued for their deportation on July 15. Koanka filed a request for resident status for herself and son on humanitarian grounds, but it was denied.

Filipino mothers with their children demonstrate opposite the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Sign on the left reads "We are the children of Israel." On Tuesday, June 11, 2019.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

A hearing was also held on Sunday in the case of another Filipina, Geraldine Esta, and her two children, who are appealing their deportation. Immigration authorities arrested them in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan last week. 

Although Administrative Judge Ilan Halabga ordered the family to remain in custody until a decision in their case is given, he did say that “normative human beings and juveniles do not belong in a detention facility.” He ordered that a doctor and other experts be given access to Esta’s 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter for examination. 

Halabga also asked how the government’s decision squared with the children’s well-being. “The children were born here, educated here,” he wondered. The lawyer for the state, Shiran Turgeman, said humanitarian concerns do not provide a basis for delaying the deportation, arguing that the case could still be assessed after the family leaves the country.

This summer, the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority is planning to deport dozens of Filipina workers whose visas have lapsed after they had children in Israel, although the Filipino community in Israel fears the actual number will be larger. Despite being born in Israel, the children, who are also subject to deportation, do not have legal status in the country.

In 2006 and 2010, the government made two punctual decisions granting legal status to the children of foreign workers. No similar decisions have been made since. Many of the children, who have grown up in Israel, speak only Hebrew.

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