Now that the school year has ended, 1200 children of migrant workers are set to be deported from Israel.
Israel lacks any sort of formal immigration policy for non-Jews, so current regulations are up to interior minister Eli Yishai. Despite the fact that the children were born and raised in Israel, speak Hebrew and practice Israeli customs, Yishai contends they “[are] liable to damage the state’s Jewish identity, constitute a demographic threat and increase the danger of assimilation.”
While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu previously stated, “We have created a Jewish and democratic nation, and we cannot let it turn into a nation of foreign workers,” an inter-ministerial committee headed by him recommends that 800 children be allowed to remain in Israel.
There are an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 migrant workers primarily from Thailand, the Phillipines and China who pay recruiting agencies to be able to live and work in Israel. The government began recruiting labor from foreign countries so as not to rely on Palestinian labor.
Estimates of workers residing illegally in the country vary greatly, ranging anywhere from 50 percent to over 80 percent. However a worker’s illegal status does not necessarily signify they entered the country undocumented. Rotem Ilan, founder of the NGO Israeli Children, explains that if a migrant worker gives birth in Israel, they immediately become illegal. In addition, Israel has a 63 month time cap, but many workers contend it is not enough time to earn enough money to pay back the agencies that contracted them, and consequently they continue to live and work in the country illegally.
Thousands of Israelis have participated in protests demanding that the children remain. Meanwhile, Yishai has threatened to abandon his immigration responsibilities if the children are not deported.