“We ask the government to show humanity and compassion to these children and to their families and to try to work out a policy which will not on one hand deport the children and at the same time bring [new] people into Israel again and deprive them of their right to raise a family,” Moriel Matalon, chairman of the Israel branch of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.
In addition to the negative effects of this “revolving door” immigration policy, Matalon said that putting the children of migrant workers in jail prior to deportation is a clear violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Israel is a signatory.
“It’s unjustified to put the children with their parents in jail or in prison, even for a temporary period of time. This can have a tremendous adverse effect on the raising up of the child,” Matalon said. “These children have committed no crime whatsoever. There’s no reason they should spend any time in jail.”
In July 2009, the Israeli government announced its intention to deport 1,200 children of undocumented migrant workers. After a great deal of criticism, an inter-ministerial committee finally approved the deportation of 400 children in August last year, while the remaining 800 were told they could apply for permanent status in Israel if they met certain requirements.
These criteria included that the children speak fluent Hebrew, be enrolled in the Israeli school system in the first grade or higher, have been born in Israel or entered before the age of 13, have been in Israel for five consecutive years, and have parents who entered Israel legally.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time: “We all feel and understand the hearts of children. But on the other hand, there are Zionist considerations and ensuring the Jewish character of the state of Israel. We don’t want to create an incentive for the inflow of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrant workers.”
But many of the undocumented workers lost their legal status simply by giving birth, as Israeli policy formerly stipulated that migrant workers who give birth must either send their babies back to their home countries, or keep their children and lose their work visas.
In April this year, the Israeli high court ruled that this law was unconstitutional.
“Forcing a woman to choose between continued employment while realizing her legitimate financial expectations, and realizing her right to motherhood, cannot be reconciled with the normative and legal-constitutional perceptions of Israeli society. Constructing the alternatives in such a way is, first and foremost, a violation of the migrant worker’s right to parenthood,” the court stated in its ruling.
As the court’s ruling is not being implemented retroactively, migrant workers who gave birth before the ruling are still scheduled for deportation with their children. According to Noa Galili, spokeswoman for Israeli Children, an organization that has been working to stop the deportations and grant the children permanent status in Israel, approximately sixty children have been deported to date.
No doctor for detainees
“There’s no official protocol [for the arrest and deportation of children] so, for example, there’s no doctor in the detention facility [at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport] specifically for kids. Social workers aren’t there all the time. The mothers say there’s not enough milk for the babies or water to wash the kids. It’s really, really problematic.”
This lack of a formal policy on how to carry out the arrest, detention and deportation of migrant workers and their children causes serious damage to the psychological well-being of the children, Galili said.
“In a lot of cases, we can see that kids react with anxiety. We heard a lot of cases where the kids started throwing up because that’s how they reacted to the arrests. There is no routine, no written routine, and that’s what we’ve been asking for since the beginning of the arrests: that they have a protocol for how they arrest kids.”
Ultimately, Galili said that the Israeli government should provide the children with permanent status because they were born in Israel and don’t know anywhere else as home, and because their parents entered the country legally.
“It’s not that we’re asking to make a law that from now on, all kids that are born in Israel should get status, but rather creating immigration laws so that all the kids that are here today should get status,” she said. “It’s a small number of kids and deporting them will be the biggest trauma of their life.”