The Jerusalem Post, August 20, 2010
As Shabbat drew to a close Saturday, more than 2000 protestors marched against the deportation of migrant workers’ children. On August 1, the Israeli cabinet adopted criteria that will make 800 children eligible for naturalization, subjecting another 400 to deportation. Observers have pointed out that many minors who seem to meet the criteria for naturalization could fall through the bureaucratic cracks, significantly raising the number of those who face expulsion.
Amongst Saturday’s demonstrators were the embassy cases—families that, in a twist of irony, are threatened with deportation because they spent many years working in Israel legally.
In 2005, Israel announced that it would give residency to migrant workers’ children. A one-time decision, similar to that made in early August, parents rushed to file the paperwork.
Ana Louisa Rafael, a mother of three aged 15, 10, and 2, still remembers the date she applied. “July 27, 2005,” she says. Her children, 10 and 5 at the time, met all the criteria. They were born here. They were above the age of four years and nine months. Hebrew-speakers who attended Israeli schools, they also met the requirement for assimilation.
But they were rejected. Rafael, who came to Israel from the Philippines 18 years ago, says, “We were turned down because we worked with the diplomats.”
The Ministry of Interior explained that only children of undocumented workers were eligible for residency. Because Rafael was employed by an embassy at the time and held a valid visa, her kids couldn’t be naturalized.
Had Rafael arrived in Israel as a caregiver, like most Filipino workers, she would have lost her legal status soon after marrying or giving birth. But embassy workers get leeway—they can have babies and visas.
In 2005, this left 30 children from 17 families ineligible for residency.
Reflecting on the 2005 decision—which, the following year, lead to the naturalization of approximately 900 children of migrant workers—attorney Natalie Saraf-Raviv comments, “What is the difference between a child who was raised here without a visa and those who have [a visa]? The government wants to punish people who are here legally?”
In hopes of helping their kids’ cases, many of the parents left their jobs at the embassies so that they would become illegal. Now the group faces deportation, despite the fact that their children again meet the criteria for residency.
The reason this time? According to the cabinet’s recent decision, the parents entered Israel with the “wrong” visa.
Rafael points out that the state is naturalizing kids less than half the age of her 15-year-old son. Because most of the group arrived in the early 1990s, many of their children are teenagers. Some came with toddlers and little kids who are now in their early and mid-twenties.
Rafael remarks, “If they have a heart for the small children and it’s a pity to expel [them] from the country they were born [in], how much more for our children?” She adds that some kids who weren’t born here and have been in Israel for less time than her two eldest will receive residency while her Israeli-born children are expelled.
Rafael has discussed the deportation with her oldest son. “He said, ‘You go on your own, I will stay with my friends.’”
Will they fight the expulsion? Will they hide? Ana Louisa responds, “My son says, ‘Why should we hide? We are entitled to our rights, so why should we hide?’”
Irene De La Cruz was nine when she left the Philippines with her mother, who had found work at an embassy in Israel. She came up in Israeli schools, speaks perfect Hebrew, and has the easy manners of a sabra. But in 2005, when the Israeli government opened the door to migrant workers’ children, De La Cruz had two strikes against her—she was an embassy case and she was over 18.
At 24 now, De La Cruz is again too old to meet the new criteria.
When she was 19, De La Cruz was picked up by the police. “I got all the way to Holon,” she says, referring to the police station where illegal residents are often processed and held before deportation. As she spoke to the policemen there and explained her situation, De La Cruz recalls, “They realized I’m young, I studied here, and I’m not an illegal worker. They understood my status.”
Which is what?
“I feel you can be a citizen anywhere, but it’s different to be an Israeli. I’m an Israeli by my heart,” De La Cruz says, touching her hand to her chest. “I’m just not a citizen.”
Apparently, the police agreed. “They figured it wasn’t right to deport me,” De La Cruz says. “They let me go.”
Although her mother is Christian, De La Cruz says she feels “much closer to Judaism.” She would also like to raise a Jewish family, she says, explaining that she feels completely absorbed into Israeli society.
But there are painful moments when she remembers that the government doesn’t acknowledge her as such.
“I really wanted to serve in the army,” De La Cruz says. “All my friends were serving and I wasn’t. I was stuck back, not moving forward with [them].”
She adds, “I feel that [army service] is part of your duty as an Israeli. Not as a citizen, but as an Israeli.”
There are other reminders of her unrecognized status. “I feel like I’m Israeli, 100 percent, right up until the point that people ask for my teudat zeut,” De La Cruz says.
Her mother, Ema De La Cruz, has hired a lawyer in hopes of realizing her daughter’s dream of getting an Israeli identity card. But, as any parent would be, she remains worried about the deportation.
When asked what concerns her most about her daughter’s expulsion, she sighs and her eyes fill with tears. “I cannot express. I have a lot of worries. You can read my feelings,” she says, gesturing to her face.
Will De La Cruz stay in Israel alone if Irene, her only child, is deported? Or, if Irene receives citizenship, will she return to the Philippines?
“How can I leave my daughter?” she answers.
Her husband, Irene’s father, died in the Philippines. The De La Cruzes have only a loose network of extended family to speak of, people they haven’t seen in years. “We are only two,” Ema De La Cruz says. “[Expelling Irene] is like killing half my life.”
Leonida Pagarigan left the Philippines in 1984, when she was just 16 years old. She entered Israel on a tourist visa and worked as a domestic helper. “I was a child myself when I arrived,” Pagarigan reflects.
Her husband—who she met and married here in Israel—came a year later, at the age of 21. He had work lined up at an embassy. It was a job he would keep for 25 years, quitting only recently in hopes of helping his children, aged 20 and 9, who were turned away in 2005 because the family had legal status.
“Now I think there is no reason not to give [our kids residency] because we are illegal,” Pagarigan remarks.
While Pagarigan is concerned about leaving the only country her children know, her first worry is the health of her eldest child. Her 20-year-old son has hypokalemic periodic paralysis, a rare disorder that leads to episodes of muscle weakness and temporary paralysis. As the heart is a muscle, serious attacks can lead to cardiac failure.
“He’s paralyzed when he has an attack,” Pagarigan says. “He cannot move. It’s very sad.”
Her son receives medical attention in Israel—treatment they discovered is not available in the Philippines.
In 2005, when the family visited the Philippines, Pagarigan’s son suffered an episode of paralysis. “We were supposed to put him in the hospital. We called and nobody came,” Pagarigan recalls, explaining that they were visiting relatives in a rural area. “We cannot transport him because he has to be with special care in the ambulance.”
Luckily, the attack passed. But Pagarigan is concerned about what could have happened if it had been worse.
Pagarigan has urged her son to appeal to the government for mercy. But her son, like the “stiffnecked people” he has grown up with, refuses. “I told him look you have to talk to the people who can help you now,” Pagarigan says. “He said,’ I don’t like to beg the Israeli government to give me a teudat zeut. I don’t think I should have to beg. It’s inhumane.’”
Pagarigan understands his sentiment. “[The children] have a right to stay here. They have met all the criteria,” she says.
When asked if her kids are Christian or Jewish, Pagarigan laughs. “Both,” she says. “On Yom Kippur, [my oldest son] goes to the sea to wash away his sins. I say, ‘how come? You are not Jewish.’ And he says, ‘This is my feeling. You have your own belief and I have [mine].’”
Judith Trinanis and her husband are both former embassy workers that arrived here in the early 1990s. Because they don’t want to worry their children, 14-year-old Michelle and 8-year-old Michael, they have avoided discussing the deportation in front of them. But, recently, the issue was forced when Michael saw news of the expulsion on television.
“He ran out from the salon and [came] into [our bedroom],” she recalls. “And he told me, ‘Do you know I saw in the television that we are going to be [sent] out of the country?’ And he asked us, ‘Is it true? Is it true? We are living here a long time, why do we need to go out from Israel?’”
Still reluctant to discuss the deportation, Trinanis answered her son, “I told him, ‘I think we just need to wait, I don’t know what’s going to be.’”
As children sometimes do, he pushed the conversation.
Trinanis told her young son that the state considers them “aliens.” “He asked me, ‘What does that mean?’” Trinanis recalls. “I tried to explain to him that children who were born in [Israel] can call themselves Israeli. And so he said, ‘Ok, so then I am Israeli.’ And I told him, you’re right, you and your sister are Israeli because you were born here.”
Her son was unable to understand why the state considers him a foreigner. Trinanis explained that although he was born here, to the government he doesn’t “look like an Israeli.”
It’s a concept that still doesn’t make sense to Michael, Trinanis says, “For him, this is his country, this is where he belongs. He wants to go to school and serve [in the army].”
Trinanis herself is struggling to understand why kids younger than hers, some of whom are foreign-born, are being naturalized as her children face deportation. And her husband doesn’t understand how Israel can deport their kids to the Philippines, a country that opened its doors to Jews during the Holocaust.
Michelle, who comments that she is willing to do anything for Israel, simply says, “Why do I have to start over again?”
Photo: Mya Guarnieri. Israelis and migrant workers march on Saturday, August 14, against the deportation of migrant workers’ children. The sign in the foreground reads, “My mother lost her passport. They will deport me,” pointing to the fact that scores of children who are eligible for residency will fall through the bureaucratic cracks.