Israel Again Bars Colombian Children From Visiting Their Jewish-Israeli Mom

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Sarah Debora Meyer with daughters Sofia Castrillon Alvarez, 15, and Luz Adela Castrillon, 12, on their trip to Israel in the summer of 2018.
Sarah Debora Meyer with daughters Sofia Castrillon Alvarez, 15, and Luz Adela Castrillon, 12, on their trip to Israel in the summer of 2018.Credit: Courtesy of the Meyer family

The Interior Ministry is once again barring the children of an Orthodox convert living in Israel from visiting her. The children are Colombian nationals whose mother recently remarried a Jewish man.

It is the second time in less than a year that a request by Sarah Debora Meyer to have her children spend their vacation time with her in Israel has been turned down. After the first request was rejected, the family threatened a lawsuit and the ministry backed down.

Last November, after the Meyers received conflicting instructions from two branches of the Interior Ministry, Meyer’s two daughters, both minors, attempted to visit her without obtaining the required visas and were detained and deported when they landed at Ben-Gurion airport.

In a letter notifying the mother of its latest decision, the ministry said that “heavy suspicions” had been raised that Meyer’s children intended to stay in Israel permanently. The letter, issued several days ago, was signed by Pnina Ben-Shushan, head of the Interior Ministry’s visa department.

Acting on behalf of the family, the Israel Religious Action Center — the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in the country — on Tuesday appealed the decision with the Jerusalem branch of the ministry. If the appeal is rejected, warned Nicole Maor, the lawyer handling the case, IRAC will challenge the ruling in court.

“This is one of the most unreasonable things I have ever heard,” Maor told Haaretz. “What the ministry is doing goes against the basic tenets of the Law of Return. They are basically telling this mother that they don’t want her here.”

The Law of Return allows all Jews, including converts, as well as their spouses, to immigrate to Israel. Maor noted that Israeli law allows children of converts to join their immigrant parents even if they have not converted themselves.

Sarah Debora Meyer has three children from her previous marriage: a son, Juan Manuel Castrillon Alvaretz, who recently turned 18, and two daughters — Sofia Castrillon Alvarez, 15, and Luz Adela Castrillon, 13. Meyer submitted a request to allow the two older children to visit her between November 2019 and January 2020, during their summer break from school.

The youngest child, whose trip to Israel was approved earlier this year, is currently visiting her mother and has a return ticket to Colombia for December 15. The ministry said in its letter that it would only be willing to consider granting visas to the other two children once the youngest child has left.

According to Maor, the ministry has no grounds whatsoever for suspecting the children would stay permanently in Israel. The older son has begun his university studies in Colombia, she noted, and the two daughters remain in the custody of their father, who had granted them permission to visit their mother in Israel but not to stay in the country.

Sarah Debora Meyer is married to Gerard Meyer, a French-born Jew with U.S. and Israeli citizenship. The couple, who have a baby daughter, met in Pittsburgh five years ago and then moved to Colombia, from where they immigrated to Israel in March 2018.

The two sisters were detained and deported from Israel when they arrived to visit their mother last November. At the time, the Interior Ministry said the girls were sent back because their mother had presented the authorities with “facts on the ground” by not waiting for an official response to her request to bring them to Israel for a visit.

The family reported that the sisters were held in custody at the airport and interrogated for eight hours before being put on a return flight. They were not permitted to see either their mother or baby sister, who had come to the airport to collect them.

More than a month after they were sent back, the ministry notified Meyer that her application to have her daughters visit her had been officially rejected. About a month after that, once IRAC became involved in the case, the ministry reversed its decision and said the girls had permission to come visit their mother under the terms that had been originally requested. But by then, the older daughter’s summer vacation was already nearly over, and the Meyer couple decided to wait a year before ordering her another ticket. The younger daughter was given permission to come in February and spend 10 months with her mother.

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