'The Headmaster Said Mom Was Arrested:' Filipino Families Renew Battle for Legal Status in Israel

The Immigration and Population Authority has started offering thousands of dollars to migrant workers and their families as an incentive to leave Israel. 'I've never been to the Philippines and I don't understand why people tell me I'm Filipino. I don't know the language, I think in Hebrew,' a 12-year-old boy from Ramat Gan says

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A protester carries a sign that reads "Our roots are here" at a demonstration in support of Filipino families in Israel, on Saturday.
A protester carries a sign that reads "Our roots are here" at a demonstration in support of Filipino families in Israel, on Saturday.Credit: Moti Milrod
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

About 300 people demonstrated at Tel Aviv's Habima square on Saturday in support of Israel's Filipino community, which is once again worried that the deportation of its members is imminent following a drive by the Population and Immigration Authority offering families thousands of dollars if they leave the country.

Population Authority inspectors have recently resumed issuing deportation orders for mothers after a COVID-related hiatus. In the last month, the Authority has been offering each family member an incentive of 1500 dollars upon their departure and 300 dollars a month for the following year.

Although the Population Authority has not officially declared a new campaign of deportations, mothers and children say they no longer want to live under fear of deportation or being urged to leave “out of their own choice.”

Most of these women came from the Philippines, as well as other countries, at the initiative of Israel and under permit, in order to care for the elderly, the sick and the disabled. While their children were born, raised and educated in Israel, the mothers lost their legal status since their work permit prohibits them from having children.

Thirteen-year-old Yarden from Haifa said he's been having nightmares for years over his fear of being deported. His mother arrived in Israel 20 years ago and he was born in the country. When he was 10, his mother was arrested for two days.

A protester carries a sign that reads "The children aren't going anywhere" at a demonstration in support of Filipino families in Israel, on Saturday.Credit: Moti Milrod

"I was at school and then the principal told me to come to her room and said that my mother has been arrested. I was scared and cried a lot. I didn't know what was going to happen, mom was just waiting for a bus. She's still scared of leaving the house and so am I, sometimes," he said, adding that his mother lost her legal status in Israel when his 15-year-old sister was born.

Jay, 12, from Ramat Gan says he feels Israeli: "I've never been to the Philippines and I don't understand why people tell me I'm Filipino. I don't know the language, I think in Hebrew." Jay said that all his classmates know he's a normal kid. "I get better at basketball, I want to be a famous Israeli guitar player," he said.

“The threat of deportation is always there," Sharon Austria, a Filipina work migrant and mother leading the campaign said, adding: "This is an intolerable reality of uncertainty and fear the children are growing up with. Remove the permanent threat looming over us and grant us legal status.”

In 2006 and 2010, following battles by human rights organizations, the government passed resolutions granting some of the children of foreign workers legal status that prevented their deportation. However, many families did not meet the requirements and were not able to secure a legal status. In the summer of 2019, the Population and Immigration Authority embarked on a campaign of deportation of Filipina work migrants. Their children are now asking the government to not deport them out of Israel and recognize them as Israeli residents.

Population Authority figures submitted to the Knesset show that in 2020-2021 the government deported 44 children, some of them of Filipino origin, with 312 cases still under review.

According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, between 2011 and 2019, Israel arrested and deported only parents of babies or of children of kindergarten age, other than some outlier cases in which the courts had rejected requests to stay.

According to the hotline, the government changed its policy in July 2019, and has since arrested 67 families with children in Israeli schools ahead of deportation.

Some of the children who were imprisoned at Ramle Prison were at Saturday's rally. Other speakers included their classmates, representatives of the United Children of Israel (UCI) mothers’ organization and musicians and artists, including Yael Abucassis, Miki Gavrielov, Hemi Rodner, Maor Cohen, Kfir Tzafrir and Kevin Rubin.

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, no students or parents were arrested for one year. As of February 2021, the UCI says inspectors have resumed operations, and mothers have been issued with deportation orders. The Authority is not providing official numbers on this.

The Population Authority clarified in a position paper they submitted to the Knesset in December that the children were in Israel illegally and are therefore ineligible for any permit to stay in the country.

The Population and Immigration Authority said in response to this story that “the current operation allows families residing here illegally with their children to leave willingly, with a significant financial package for every family member. This operation is in effect until the end of November, and families have already approached us. Everything else that’s been said is speculation by people who are unfamiliar with the facts.”

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