Children of foreign nationals slated for deportation will be arrested only if there is no other option, the Justice Ministry announced on Wednesday in a shift of policy after several were detained this year ahead of their expulsion.
The children may be arrested only as a last resort “if there is a high probability that other means to assure the family leaves the country are will be ineffective,” the ministry wrote.
In the past year, several children were arrested and held in facilities maintained by the Population and Immigration Authority until their expulsion.
The new directive is the result of a meeting between the Justice Ministry and the Population and Immigration Authority, which took place two weeks ago, after the ministry resolved in October that the authority must hold hearings for children over 12 years old who are set to be deported.
After criticism and protests against deportation of Filipino children, the Justice Ministry decided to allow the children to present their positions at hearings. According to the new directive, the authorities must consider the “wishes and greater good of the children” when deciding whether to deport them.
In October, the Justice Ministry said that children under 12 will not be granted a hearing or have their own wishes considered in the process. In Wednesday’s announcement, though, the ministry said that the good of the child should be determined and taken into consideration for younger children as well.
The good of the child is not the exclusive criterion for deciding on expulsion, Wednesday’s announcement emphasized. According to the ministry, it must be checked whether the child’s benefit in any case requires that they remain in Israel, rather than leave for another country where they would be better off.
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“Another relevant consideration beyond the law is the migratory incentive created by granting status in Israel,” the ministry announcement says, adding that it would determine whether uprooting the child would cause disproportional harm to the particular child, justifying that they remain in Israel.
In recent months, the Population and Immigration Authority decided to expel several foreign workers with their children, even though they were born in Israel, had never visited their parents’ country of origin, and did not speak the language there. In one case, the state deported Filipina Rosemarie Perez and her 13-year-old son Rohan, even though social workers concluded that the expulsion could cause him irreversible harm.
Lawyer David Tadmor, who represents foreign children at risk of deportation pro bono, had asked the Justice Ministry about the issue a number of times. “These are issues of fundamental importance, especially the matter of detention and the need to always consider the good of the child,” he said. “I hope and believe, in continuation of our efforts, this will be the end of the dark practice of incarcerating minors at the hands of the Population Authority.”
The Israel National Council for the Child made three inquiries to the attorney general on the subject. The council’s chairwoman, Vered Windman welcomed the announcement “that is to end the incarceration of minors, which is illegal and goes counter to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” she said. “We expect the Population and Immigration Authority will not put additional difficulty on the children with how high the bail is set which, as a result, would turn the [Justice Ministry’s] directive into a dead letter.”
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said that “Holding minors in detention is a last resort, and the good of the child constitutes a central consideration in the decision to arrest or expel them from Israel. That being said, the consideration of ‘migratory incentives’ is distressing,” arguing that many foreign workers were “incentivized” to come to Israel by the state, “who thought it can bring working hands alone.” If Israel insists on continuing to bring in foreign workers, the organization said, “it must come to terms with the fact that some of them will start families and their children will completely Israeli.”