Immigration authorities have ordered the deportation of a 63-year-old Filipino woman who has lived in Israel for 18 years, despite her husband's indictment for battery.
The 30-day order against Yehudit Tal was issued earlier this month after her husband, an Israeli citizen, put a halt to the naturalization proceedings he had begun on her behalf.
The man was indicted for assaulting, injuring and threatening her in 2018, and subsequent legal proceedings should have preempted a deportation order, at least temporarily.
Under the regulations governing deportations of foreigners married to abusive Israelis, Tal should have been granted a hearing by an inter-ministerial committee before the deportation order was issued. But the Population and Immigration Authority ordered her deported immediately, without a hearing, on the grounds that she reported the abuse only after her husband announced his intent to divorce her.
According to the indictment, however, he assaulted Tal two months before he asked the authority to halt her naturalization, and she reported the assault to the police the day it happened.
“He choked me, beat me and made me fear for my life, and now, after I’ve been in Israel 20 years, they’re deporting me in a month because he requested it?” Tal told Haaretz. “They aren’t even willing to look into my case? What message are they sending to foreign women who married an Israeli – not to complain, because they’ll deport them and they’ll always favor the man? I can’t sleep, I’m trembling with fear. How can they send me alone, at age 60? What will I do?”
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Tal has appealed the deportation, which has been frozen until her appeal is heard.
“At her advanced age, her chances of earning a dignified living in the Philippines are virtually nonexistent, and she isn’t entitled to a pension,” her lawyer, Tal Ofir, wrote in the appeal. “Yehudit left her previous life in the Philippines, and today, she’s Israeli in every respect. Deporting her after 18 years, at her advanced age, would sentence her to a life of poverty and loneliness.”
He also argued that the regulations governing deportations of domestic violence victims were meant precisely for cases like hers, “to prevent the terrible choice between being a victim of violence and being deported to one’s country of origin, bereft of everything.”
‘If you don’t put the phone down, I’ll kill you’
Tal came to Israel in 2001 with a work visa as a home health aide. She met her future husband in 2007 and they began living together, but they began naturalization proceedings only in 2011 because she had trouble obtaining the necessary documents.
The incident that ended their relationship occurred in May 2018. According to the indictment, after she refused several requests by her husband, he ordered her to leave their apartment and locked her out.
Tal called the police and asked them to help her get back in. They did so, and she thought the incident was over.
But when she went into the bathroom to get ready for bed that night, her husband locked her out of the bedroom. And when he opened the door, “he punched her in the face and head and caused her real injury,” including scratches and a swollen cheek, the indictment stated.
Tal ran for her cell phone to call the police, but her husband caught her, choked her and ordered her to put the phone down. When she nevertheless dialed the police, “he threatened her, saying, ‘If you don’t put the phone down, I’ll kill you,’ and grabbed her neck with both hands,” the indictment continued.
Neighbors heard the quarrel and called the police, who came to the house and urged Tal to go to a shelter for battered women. But she refused, saying that in a shelter, she wouldn’t be able to go to work.
Two months after this incident, and a month before he was indicted, the husband told the immigration authority that he had started divorce proceedings and asked to freeze her naturalization. But contrary to the regulations for cases involving domestic violence, the authority never interviewed Tal to hear her side of the story.
In November 2018, Tal went to the authority and asked to let her naturalization continue despite the divorce on the grounds that her relationship with her husband was abusive. The regulations state that such cases should be referred to an inter-ministerial committee if the applicant meets three criteria – she must have an A5 visa, be more than halfway through the naturalization process, and claim that her Israeli spouse abused her before they split up.
Even though Tal's case meets all these criteria, the authority refused to refer her case, claiming she made them aware of the abuse only after he announced his intention to divorce her.
Tal said the May 2018 incident wasn’t the first time her husband abused her. In 2011, shortly after they began naturalization proceedings, he threw her against a wall, injuring her in the leg and back, causing her to be hospitalized.
After that incident, he also asked the immigration authority to halt her naturalization. But that time, the authority interviewed her, as required by law, and she told them about the assault.
The couple got back together and even talked about getting married. In 2013, after another quarrel, the man again asked the authority to halt Tal’s naturalization, and managed to get her visa canceled. But again, they later made up.
In May 2014, they finally got married in Cyprus. The following year, they submitted the marriage certificate to the Interior Ministry and resumed the naturalization process, this time on the grounds of family reunification, which entitled Tal to an A5 visa.
A complicated process, often made to fail
Ofir, Tal’s lawyer, noted that non-citizen victims of domestic violence often fear that if they go to the police, their spouses will divorce them, leading to their deportation. After the Supreme Court ruled that encouraging victims of domestic abuse to file complaints is in the public interest, the Interior Ministry created a procedure that allows the naturalization process to continue on humanitarian grounds. But this procedure is problematic for several reasons, Ofir said.
First, it applies only to married couples, not common-law couples. Secondly, naturalization on humanitarian grounds is an act of goodwill, not a right, enabling the ministry to reject most of these requests. Thirdly, it’s not enough for a partner to be battered; they must also prove a “connection to Israel” – knowledge of Hebrew, Israeli friends and such. And since victims of domestic abuse are often very isolated, that connection can be hard to prove. Finally, “as we see in Yehudit’s case, even this flawed procedure isn’t followed,” he said.
After reviewing the couple’s rocky history, the Immigration Authority said it interviewed both spouses before stopping the process when the latest request to halt Tal’s naturalization was filed in 2018. It added that later, it reviewed Tal’s request to grant her legal status under the procedures for victims of domestic violence, but rejected it.
“We’d like to clarify that throughout these years, the issue of violence was never raised in their contacts [with us],” the statement added. “This arose [only] after the husband informed us of the divorce proceedings.”