Israel Uses Collective Punishment to Ensure Migrants’ Children Deportation

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Aug 11 2010

Recently the Israeli government decided to deport 400 of the 1,200 children of undocumented migrant workers and their family members from Israel. Previous decision of this sort were eventually not enforced, and reports about Prime Minister Netanyahu's attempts to not carry our the decision have surfaced. However, there are elements in the Israeli government that want to ensure that the deportations take place, even if this means collectively punishing migrant workers and their children.

The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported yesterday about a decree signed by Eli Yishai, the hawkish Minister of Interior from the religious party Shas, that states that as long as the 400 children and their family members are not deported, the stay permits for the remaining 800 children and their family members won't be granted. This decision essentially holds hostage the 800 children and their families to ensure that the government follows through with its decision to deport the 400 children. Yishai was reported as saying: "even if 399 of the 400 [children] leave the country, I will not grant the sought-out [residency] permit to the other [800] children, until the 400th child leaves".

The decision by the Israeli government stated that children of undocumented migrant workers will be allowed to remain in Israel with their families if they meet five criteria: "the child studied during the past year in Israel's state school system, is enlisted for the upcoming school year in the first grade or higher, has lived for five consecutive years or more in Israel, and, if he was not born here, arrived before the age of 13. In addition, the child must be a Hebrew speaker, and his parents must have entered Israel on a valid visa." These criteria meant that 400 children and their families would be deported, and 800 and their families would be granted stay permits and would be allowed to remain in Israel until the children are 21-years-old.

A few days before the decision to deport the children and their families was adopted, the Israeli government permitted recruiting 300 more migrant workers for the agricultural sector. Israel maintains a "revolving door" policy that limits the stay of migrants in Israel up to 63 months (except for caregiver), constantly bringing new laborers in the stead of those who leave to ensure that the migrant workers do not settle in Israel. Two ways to ensure that migrant workers don't "take root" in Israel is to prohibit relationships between migrant workers and deport women if they give birth in Israel (alternatively, they can send their child back to their country of origin).

A nation-wide debate has erupted following the decision to deport the children with politicians, human rights activists and Holocaust survivors calling the action inhumane. In response, some in the Israeli government stated that the children pose a threat to Israel's Jewish character. Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister stated that migrant workers have children to ensure remaining in Israel, using their children as "human shield" against deportation and that their "field trip" to Israel is over. Migrant worker rights organizations say in response that prohibiting young men and women from engaging in relationships and procreating is barbaric. The organizations urge the government to stop recruitment of new workers (which is beneficial to the recruitment agencies that charge exorbitant brokerage fees), and instead allow the 400 children and their workers to remain in Israel. Activists at the Hotline for Migrant Workers, an Israeli NGO stated yesterday that "migrant workers are not object that can be imported, used, and then when they act like humans and bring children into the world, inform them that their 'field trip is over'."

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East