Threatened with a lawsuit, the Interior Ministry has reversed its decision to bar two Colombian girls from entering the country to visit their mother, who is an Orthodox convert and Israeli citizen.
The Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in the country, represented the mother, Sarah Debora Meyer, in an appeal against the Interior Ministry, which issued its decision about two weeks ago.
In its response on Sunday, the ministry said it accepted the appeal and has no objections to the two daughters visiting their mother as they had originally planned.
As first reported in Haaretz, the two sisters were detained and deported from Israel when they arrived to visit their mother in late 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.
In its response, the Interior Ministry also said “heavy suspicions” were raised during the airport interrogation that the girls planned to stay in Israel permanently rather than just visit.
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More than a month after they were sent back, the Interior Ministry notified Meyer that the application had been rejected. In her appeal, IRAC attorney Nicole Maor warned that if the decision was not reversed within a few weeks, she would file a lawsuit against the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem District Court.
Sofia Castrillon Alvarez, 15, and Luz Adela Castrillon, 12, landed in Tel Aviv at 10 P.M. on November 29, following a 24-hour trip from Bogotá with a stopover in Madrid. 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.
The girls' mother, along with her second husband, Gerard Meyer and their newborn daughter Rachel, were waiting for them at the airport. More than 90 minutes later, when there was no sign of them, Sarah phoned Sofia and learned that the girls had been detained at immigration and would be sent back to Colombia early the next morning.
According to Gerard Meyer (who goes by the name Abraham Gerard Meyer in Israel), an immigration official told his wife that she would not be able to see her daughters even briefly before they boarded the flight back, “because she might create a scene.”
Sofia Castrillon Alvarez had planned to spend two months in Israel, coinciding with her summer break in Colombia. Luz Adela Castrillon, meanwhile, had received permission from a judge in Colombia to spend a year in the custody of her mother in Israel.
In its letter to IRAC on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said both girls would now be permitted to stay until the dates they had originally planned. However, since Sofia’s summer vacation is almost over, the family has decided not to have her come again.
The Meyers said they are already in great debt because the visa application process cost them thousands of dollars, and they have not received any reimbursement for the money they lost on the girls’ round-trip plane tickets.
“My feelings are mixed about this decision,” said Gerard Meyer. “On the one hand, our request was approved. But on the other, it is by now too late for Sofia to come spend time with us.”
Maor said she was thrilled the appeal was accepted and that the Interior Ministry had decided “to act in accordance with its own regulations.
“One can only hope,” she added, “that the girls will not have to go through another trauma like this again.”
Sarah Debora Meyer will be leaving for Colombia in the next few days to accompany her 12-year-old daughter to Israel.