Dozens of children rally outside PM’s residence against immigration crackdown
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Dozens of children rally outside PM’s residence against immigration crackdown

‘I’m an Israeli child, don’t deport me,’ shout kids, as authorities move to deport 50 children of foreign workers who overstayed their visas

Filipino workers and their kids protest against the arrest and deportations of children of foreign workers in Israel outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 24, 2019. (Sue Surkes)
Filipino workers and their kids protest against the arrest and deportations of children of foreign workers in Israel outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on July 24, 2019. (Sue Surkes)

Dozens of children and their mothers gathered Wednesday evening outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to protest the detention of three Filipino workers and four children during immigration raids this week in central Israel.

The arrests came as authorities appeared to accelerate their efforts to deport approximately 50 children of foreign workers over the course of the summer.

The children, born in Israel, shouted: “I’m an Israeli child, don’t deport me,” “All my life I’ve lived in Israel” and “ Bibi, we don’t have anywhere else, let us stay please,” using the prime minister’s nickname.

The protesters also chanted slogans in support of Michael, Katrin and Kian, the three children detained earlier this week who are awaiting deportation.

Just before 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, immigration agents broke into the Ramat Gan home of Geraldine Esta and arrested her and her two children, aged 6 and 10, along with an unidentified second woman and infant.

Filipino workers and their kids protest against the arrest and deportations of children of foreign workers in Israel outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 24, 2019. (Sue Surkes)

Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz was present during the raid, live-tweeting developments.

“These children were born here and their only ‘crime’ was that they were born to a mother from the Philippines,” he wrote. “Now the police are packing up their few possessions and outside a few of their friends are standing and crying.”

“Here is such a cruel thing,” Horowitz continued. “They are taking out the mother with tears and her two trembling children [with] two bags with a few clothes. This is how you end someone’s life.”

“They put the children, in total hysteria, into this sealed car, on the way to a detention cell. You can hear the crying and screaming inside. This is what you should do to criminals, not little children. There is no reason in the world to behave like this. It is much more than a shame and disgrace — it is abuse and it must stop.”

The raid came only two days after agents kicked off their campaign with the arrests of Ofresina Koanka and her learning disabled school-age son Michael. It was the first time that a child born to a foreign worker in Israel and attending a local school had been detained for expulsion.

Women with the Filipino community group United Children of Israel, which helped organize the protest against deportations, in Tel Aviv on June 24, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

An appeals court in Tel Aviv declined to rule on Koanka and Michael’s deportation on Tuesday, postponing any decision as to their fate for two weeks, Haaretz reported.

Michael studies in a special education program and was slated to begin seventh grade in the fall. According to an appeal filed by the family’s attorney, Michael’s learning disability means that he will be unable to learn a new language if deported.

In 2006 and 2009, the Interior Ministry threatened to deport hundreds of children who were born in Israel and whose parents had overstayed their work visas. A huge public outcry led to a 2010 “humanitarian decision” not to deport school-age children.

There was no change to the law, but for nine years, the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority largely honored that decision, until this spring, when immigration officials started notifying approximately 50 children and their mothers that they were slated for deportation during the summer.

Illustrative: A Filipino caregiver walks with an Israeli man sitting in a wheelchair on April 22, 2009. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

There are approximately 30,000 Filipino foreign workers in Israel, both legally and illegally. They are generally employed as home health care aides for elderly people. Often, these foreign workers come to Israel on legal work visas, but stay in the country to continue working under the table after their visas expire. Many Filipino workers, 85% of whom are women, have been in Israel for upwards of 15 years.

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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