“They need to be deported before they’re pregnant” – former Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai
The name used to denote migrant workers in Israel, “foreign workers”, is one indication of Israel’s desire to deny the common humanity and needs we share with migrant workers. One of the extreme manifestations of perceiving the migrants as work tools and not human beings are the limitations – and even legal prohibition – the State places on the migrants’ natural right to form relationship and families and have children.
At first, Israel enforced the “Pregnant Foreign Worker Procedure”, under which a migrant who became pregnant could not renew her stay visa and she was bound to be detained and deported. Later, the Ministry of Interior allowed the worker to stay in Israel if she sent the baby to her country of origin within three months following the birth. The Pregnant Foreign Workers Procedure was abolished by the High Court of Justice in 2011 following a petition of human rights organizations, including the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. However, the woman has to keep working throughout her pregnancy and immediately after the birth to maintain her legal status. Thus, she depends on the good graces of her employers – and in many cases, she is fired. She is also expected to find a proper arrangement for her child for six days out of the week, 24 hours per day, unless the employer allows her to live with her baby in his home. As a result, only a few of the migrant workers who became pregnant since the Procedure was abolished were able to maintain their legal status throughout and after their pregnancy.
Despite the difficulties, limitations and prohibitions, migrant workers have had children in Israel or brought them here. The Ministry of Education, unlike all other government ministries, upholds the international conventions Israel has ratified, and the Obligatory Education Law applies to every child who’s been in Israel for over three months. Many of the children of migrant workers study at the Biyalik Rogozin and HaYarden schools in southern Tel Aviv.
A persistent struggle of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants succeeded in 2006 and resulted in a one-time decision of the government to give legal status to children of migrant workers who met several criteria. The criteria were: the children would have had to been born in Israel or had to have stayed in Israel for at least six years, their parents entered Israel legally, and the children know Hebrew and thus their deportation would constitute cultural exile. Following this decision, 900 children and 2,300 of their family members received legal status in Israel; the child received permanent residency and his parents and siblings – temporary residency. When the child reaches the age of 21 or when he or she completes the army service, the young person gets citizenship and his or her parents and siblings get permanent residency status. The decision also stated that this legal status cannot be transferred (for example, fathers who were deported cannot return and receive legal status). However, even the children who did not receive legal status under the 2006 decision were not deported.
In 2009, the Israeli government decided to begin deporting children of migrant workers and their families. The Israeli Children NGO was founded to campaign against the deportations, and along with the Hotline, other NGOs, and numerous private citizens and public personas who joined the struggle, successfully pressured the government to issue another decision in 2010. The decision, once again defined as a one-time humanitarian gesture, defined criteria very similar to the previous decision. 701 families applied for legal status. 379 families received legal status, 77 families were turned down and 244 families are still awaiting a reply for their application as of December 2013. The Ministry of Interior declared at the Knesset committee hearing and in court that by January 2014 all applications will be examined.
In March 2011, following the construction of special cells for children at a detention facility for migrants at the Ben Gurion airport, Israel began arresting migrant children and their families and deporting them. The children are often arrested in the middle of the night. A study conducted by Israeli Children shows that 83% of children detained in immigration facilities suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
Hundreds of children of migrant workers remain without legal status in Israel, most of them raised by single mothers, as the fathers have already been deported from Israel.