Hundreds of high school students in Tel Aviv protested June 17 against the order to deport their friends from Israel — about a hundred youths who were born in Israel to migrant workers from the Philippines. On June 24, a larger protest was staged with the participation of students and teachers from the 12 schools where the children threatened with deportation study.
The state intends to deport about a hundred Filipina migrant workers with their children at the end of the school year, at the end of June, since their work visas have expired. “These are foreign nationals who have stayed in Israel for a very long period in violation of the law and without a legal status,” the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority stated. “In some cases, the father of the children returned to his homeland. These workers were arrested because of their illegal status, but out of consideration and a desire to work with them it was decided to allow their children to finish the school year and to let the mothers leave of their own accord with their children and return home. We regret the attempt to exploit this considerate decision.”
The mothers are now trying to pressure the government to cancel the deportation order. On June 11, dozens of them protested with their children in front of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The children held signs that read, “I grew up here, I dream in Hebrew, let me continue dreaming,” “Why do you want to deport me?” and “Israel is my home, let me stay home.” They chanted, among other things, “Don’t arrest children, don’t deport children, children are not criminals,” “Here is my home, here I was born” and “We love Israel, don’t deport Israeli children.”
At the same time, parent committees from several schools sent a sharply worded letter to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, protesting the decision. In addition, 80 mental health professionals sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of irreversible harm to the children.
“They are Israeli children in every way,” said Beth Franco, Filipina and chairwoman of the Association for Children of Israel that she established with Filipino mothers. She told Al-Monitor, “They were born here, they celebrate your holidays, both national and religious holidays. They are part of the Israeli society. They don’t even have an accent. Why deport them suddenly? Even if we violated the law, why blame the children?”
Franco is the mother of Yael, who will enter high school next year if she’s not deported. “My friends are constantly asking if I’m going back to the Philippines. I have never been there, I only know there’s a place like that in the world, not more than that. All my friends are here,” Yael told Al-Monitor in fluent Hebrew.
According to Israeli law, foreign workers employed in Israel are not allowed to bring children with them. In the past, a migrant worker who gave birth in Israel was forced to leave the country with her baby, and was allowed to return to work in Israel without the child. In 2011, the High Court nullified this practice. As of today, a migrant worker is allowed to stay in Israel with her baby until the end of the term of her visa. About 1,478 children of foreign workers of Filipino background are registered in the Israeli education system. According to the law, they are all supposed to leave Israel at the end of their parents’ visa term.
Because foreign workers are here without their families, in great isolation, many get very close to the people they care for, considering them family. Franco, who is now 45, came to Israel in 1999. For 17 years, she worked as a home health aide for an elderly Israeli couple, and she called her daughter Yael after the woman she cared for, who has since died.
“Two and a half years ago the man I looked after died,” Franco said. “My daughter Yael went to school and told everyone, ‘My grandpa died.’ Moms called me and asked if my parents are in Israel. … I’ve lived here half my life, I think like an Israeli, I feel completely Israeli.”
She added that if it were up to her, she would not return to her homeland, even if she did not have her daughter. “The Philippines is a Third World country, Israel is an advanced Western nation,” Franco said. “I want to give Yael the very best. Education in the Philippines is not on the level of Israel’s and she doesn’t know the culture there at all. If I bring her back there, it would be a lifelong trauma for her. She doesn’t even know the language.”
Absurdly, while Israel is rushing to deport hundreds of Filipina citizens, the Israeli Foreign Ministry ratified an agreement June 13 with the Philippine government to allow 1,000 migrant workers into the country for employment in hotels.
“During the visit of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte to Israel [ in September 2018] two agreements were signed,” Gilad Cohen, deputy director for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry, told Al-Monitor. “The first agreement ensures the social benefits of Filipino workers in Israel, regularizes their recruitment and erases the brokerage fees to recruiters who bring them over. The second agreement was reached at the request of the hotel industry that needs cleaners and housekeepers. We signed on to bring a thousand workers during the first stage, with an option of another thousand at a later stage.”
Cohen sees no dissonance between the deportation of the Filipina workers, who could have been recruited to work in the hotel industry, and the recruitment of another thousand Filipina workers at the same time. “The deportation is not connected,” he added. “These are Israel’s immigration regulations. Every foreign worker receives a visa for five years at the end of which he must leave. These are workers who exceeded the time limit. As a goodwill gesture their children were allowed to stay until the end of the school year. The rules are simple and acceptable in any well-organized country. We want to prevent foreign workers from settling here. There is a law and any country in the world would abide by it.”
The issue of migrant workers troubles many countries around the world. Israelis, like many citizens of developed countries, are not willing to work as home health aides or housekeepers. The result is that foreign workers are recruited to fill those jobs. But they are not just working hands, they are people. And that's just the reason we want them in Israel, since they work in the home care field that requires great sensitivity. Tens of thousands of disabled and elderly Israelis, many of them Holocaust survivors, are cared for by Filipina workers. Now these women demand a solution for their children, who have integrated in Israeli society. The situation presents a grave moral challenge to the authorities.
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