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Court Stops State Deporting `Legal' Foreign Workers
The record of the hearing that an Interior Ministry official held for the six workers prior to issuing the deportation orders "looks like it is a single document copied five times," concluded the judge. "The hearing record does not include a single word spoken by a foreign worker. There is no way of knowing from the hearing whether anyone spoke with each worker - and if so, in what language, and whether a translator was present." The judge stated harshly that the hearing does not "conform to minimal principles of natural justice."
But beyond these apparent flaws in the expulsion hearing, the case raises serious questions about the conduct of policemen, government bureaucrats and other officials involved in both deporting foreign workers and monitoring the process. This case is particularly telling because it involves foreign workers who arrived in Israel legally, and who did nothing on their own initiative to violate their work and residence terms.
The six workers arrived with legal permits in March and were contracted to work with an Eilat-based air conditioning company, S.A.M. In China, the workers paid thousands of dollars for passports, taxes, commissions for employment agents and more. They borrowed the money on the gray market. The Chinese say that anyone who returns to China unable to pay such debts "eats the knife" - meaning that it can be dangerous not to pay one's debts upon returning.
Some two months after the workers arrived in Israel, immigration police raided a construction site in Be'er Sheva run by the M.S. Zaguri company. It turned out that 12 of the workers at the site worked legally for Zaguri, but 10 were employed by the air conditioning company. Police records of the raid say that "several" of these workers worked on floors rather than the installation of air conditioners.
Documents were shown to the police proving that S.A.M. had been contracted by Zaguri to do air conditioning work. Nevertheless, police arrested ten Chinese workers, claiming that they worked illegally at the site, and expulsion orders were issued against them.
"Removing these workers from the country three months after their arrival is an insufferable result for these men and their families, and it is likely that expulsion will bring economic ruin to them, if not worse fates," wrote attorney Moshe Azulai, who represented the workers.
The Tel Aviv District Court accepted Azulai's arguments. "Even if I accept that the petitioners were employed to do floor work at the site, and did not do the sort of work for which they were brought to the country, it has not been established that they were at all conscious of the illegality of their actions ... In such a case, the state of Israel has a moral obligation to enable the worker to earn his bread and repay the heavy debts he incurred in order to arrive in the country," wrote Judge Mudrik.
The court ordered the state to find a place of work for the six men and to compensate them for the work days they missed as a result of the expulsion orders that were issued.
Thousands of foreign workers who arrived in Israel legally have been transferred to new employers - and the moment they begin work for the new employer, they become illegal foreigners susceptible to expulsion. This week, for example, the police exposed a case in which a businessman fraudulently secured work permits for 114 foreigners - men who arrived in Israel legally, but were then "sold" to new employers. All 114 of these workers are liable to be deported.
In recent weeks, Haaretz has published a series of claims concerning the expulsion of legally employed foreign workers. But Interior Minister Avraham Poraz denied this week that the expulsion of such workers can happen. "I am convinced that there hasn't been a case in which someone had the right to be in the country and was deported nonetheless," Poraz declared in the Knesset. But the affair of these six Chinese workers illustrates how legally employed foreigners can end up in prison, awaiting expulsion.