State Denies Status to Orphan Teen Living With Family in Israel

One of the primary reasons his request was denied is that teen is a suspect in the robbery of a grocery store

Arye Dery.
Alex Kolomoisky

The Population and Immigration Authority this week denied the request for residency status submitted by an orphaned teenage boy who lives in Israel with his Israeli relatives, even though Interior Minister Arye Dery had ordered the agency not to deport the boy and to regularize his status.

Acting authority director Amnon Shmueli instead adopted the recommendation of the Interministerial Committee for Humanitarian Affairs, which examines exceptional cases, and which decided not to grant the teen any status. One of the primary reasons his request was denied is that he is a suspect in the robbery of a grocery store, in which he and a few other teens allegedly stole 1,000 shekels (around $250) and several packs of cigarettes. A check by Haaretz found that the alleged theft did not involve violence. Police have not decided whether to request that the teen be prosecuted.

The humanitarian committee noted that even though the teen had been living for the last decade with his Israeli family, he has relatives in the former Soviet Union he could live with. In the decision it was noted that the representatives of the social affairs and health ministries on the committee had supported allowing the boy to remain.

In response to Haaretz’s inquiry, the population authority said, “The authority’s director will reexamine the case,” adding, “In any case, the teen will not be asked to leave Israel at this stage, just as the interior minister had instructed a few months ago.” However, without residency status, the boy is denied such basic benefits as state-subsidized health insurance.

The relatives raising the boy were awarded custody in their country of origin, but never adopted him or arranged formal guardianship for him in Israel. The population authority at first refused to pass his case to the humanitarian committee, arguing that it could not discuss regularizing his status until his relatives got a guardianship order from an Israeli court. As a result, the relatives petitioned a family court and asked to be named the teen’s legal guardian. It emerged in court, however, that the population authority opposed giving them a guardianship order, even though it was the authority that sent them to court in the first place.

“This is my son,” said the relative who has been raising him. Both he and his wife received Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, as did their biological children. “I will go all the way,” the relative said. “No matter what that involves. I will prove it, nine years I’m fighting and I’ll continue fighting. He already lost his parents once, why cause him more suffering and loss of us, his parents? He is so young, for nine years he’s been calling me ‘Dad.’ I’m not his biological father, but I’m his father in all other ways. This is my mitzvah. I believe that he’s my son.”

Attorney Naomi Kessel of the Reform Movement’s Immigrant Aid Center, who is representing the family said, “The decision made in the teen’s case completely contravenes the previous decision of the interior minister in his case and is based on surprising inaccuracies whose sole purpose is to paint a negative picture of the boy and his family that has no foundation.

“I am hopeful that the director of the population authority and the interior minister will view the decision as one that must be reversed, and allow the teenager, whose is orphaned of both parents, to remain here with his family, and allow his family to continue to raise him as they have for the past nine years. There’s no doubt that’s what’s best for the minor, as the interior minister himself understood in his previous decision against the boy’s deportation.”

The humanitarian committee and the director of the population authority have wide latitude with regard to granting people civil status. In the regulations governing the work of the humanitarian committee there is no reference to a criminal record as being a factor in denying someone status. The Law of Return states that an immigrant visa will not be issued “to someone with a criminal record who is liable to endanger public welfare,” but in any case, the teen’s request for status is not based on the Law of Return.