Immigration agents arrest foreign worker and her Israel-born special needs son

Family says 12-year-old unable to learn new language if deported; Israel due to expel around 50 children of Filipino workers despite 2010 commitment not to deport school-age kids

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)
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)

Israeli immigration agents arrested a Filipino woman and her school-age son early Sunday morning in what appears to be the beginning of a planned deportation of approximately 50 children of foreign workers slated to take place this summer.

According to the Haaretz daily, the woman, named as Ofresina Koanka, and her child were arrested despite the fact that the boy was born in Israel and is currently enrolled in a local school. This is the first time that a child with such status has been detained for expulsion.

A Tel Aviv court issued a temporary stay to their deportation as an appeal to allow them to stay in the country is still pending. Both are currently being held in detention at Ben Gurion airport as they await a decision on their case.

Koanka’s son Michael studies in a special education program and is 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.

A Filipino worker sits on a bench with an elderly Israeli women on May 20, 2009. (Serge Attal/Flash90)

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.

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.

“This is a false arrest that violates the law and Interior Ministry regulations,” Koanka’s attorney Zari Hazan told Haaretz. “On one hand, discussions are being held with the Interior Ministry, but on the other, a different department decides to arrest a 12-year-old boy and his mother in their beds at 5 a.m.”

Two Filipino boys at the protest against deportations in Tel Aviv on June 24, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

“We’re talking about foreign citizens prolonging their stay contrary to all of the laws and without any legalized status,” Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said following a protest against the planned deportations in Tel Aviv late last month.

“The workers were arrested because of their extended illegal stay, although, out of consideration, it was decided to let their children finish the school year.” Hadad said, noting that the mothers and children have received summonses for “voluntarily leaving,” rather than the official designation of “deportation.”

“We are seeing constant attempts to take advantage of this thoughtful gesture [to let children finish the school year],” said Hadad.

Michael’s classmates rallied for his release at Ben Gurion airport on Sunday.

“The children have been crying ever since they heard that he was under arrest,” the mother of one of his classmates told Hebrew news website Ynet. “He is one of the most popular children in the class. Only yesterday, they were together in the pool during summer vacation and today he is in prison. It’s strange. The children don’t stop crying and do not understand what this child did that he should be in prison.”

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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