Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Tuesday that Israel could not “take the risk” that African migrants will continue to cross illegally into the country, and that his office would examine possible legislation in response to the Monday ruling which invalidated a law that allowed the state to detain migrants without a formal trial.
The High Court of Justice ruled unanimously Monday that the so-called “infiltrator law,” an amendment that allowed the state to detain illegal migrants for up to three years without charging them with a crime, is unconstitutional.
The Interior Ministry will, after the Sukkot holiday, begin to investigate legislative responses to the ruling, Sa’ar said, speaking to Israel Radio. One of the judges wrote, in his reasoning behind the ruling, that if the number of migrants continued to grow it would be possible to reconsider the detention policy, the interior minister noted.
The government has been effective in using other measures to reduce the number of migrants in any case, mitigating the effect of the High Court ruling, Sa’ar said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he “respects the High Court’s decision” to cancel the detention policy but was “determined to continue to lead government operations for dealing with infiltrators.”
“At a time when many countries around the world are dealing with infiltration, we have held it [at bay], and last month not one infiltrator crossed our southern border,” Netanyahu added, crediting government measures, including the construction of a new fence along the border with Egypt, for the sharp drop.
African migrants are commonly referred to as “infiltrators” in Hebrew.
Residents of south Tel Aviv, which has over the past few years become home to a large concentration of migrants, staged a hastily organized street protest Monday evening in response to the court ruling, Ynet News reported.
City councilman Shlomo Maslawi, who also sits on the Tel Aviv southern neighborhoods committee, said that in south Tel Aviv, “tens of thousands of infiltrators… have made our lives hell. We need to see the release of more infiltrator reinforcements?”
Deputy Tel Aviv Mayor Arnon Giladi said that the court “abandoned the residents” of south Tel Aviv and said the High Court was “removed from the people.”
The court met Monday in an expanded panel of nine judges to decide on the amendment to the Law for Prevention of Infiltration, which went into effect in June 2012 and was sponsored by Netanyahu.
There are currently more than 50,000 African migrants in Israel. Some 1,750 are being held under the amendment, most of them in a detention center in southern Israel. The court ruled that each case must now be examined individually, and set a 90-day deadline for the process.
MK Miri Regev (Likud), who has sparked controversy for inflammatory statements against African migrants, said the Monday ruling was “divorced from the reality on the ground” and marked “a sad day for residents of south Tel Aviv.”
The “judges are in Jerusalem,” she added, but “the pain is felt in south Tel Aviv.”
MK Yariv Levin (Likud) said the ruling was the result of “the High Court’s activism, done completely without any authority” and “a crazy decision” that would threaten Israel’s nature as a Jewish state. Levin called on the Knesset to re-instate the law.
Opposition leader Shelley Yachimovich (Labor) praised the High Court decision. “The situation in which a person can be detained for three years, under an arbitrary administrative decision, contravened basic human rights,” she said. The ruling that struck down the amendment, she added, “set a clear and precise national moral standard.”
Yachimovich said Tuesday that Labor was working on a draft bill that would “solve the problem of infiltrators” by providing solutions for those already residing in Israel and set up a quota system for absorbing limited numbers of migrants, similar to systems set up in other countries.