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The 500 infant children of migrant workers currently facing deportation expose the unsettled nature of Israel’s immigration policy for foreign caregivers

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A thousand children of migrant workers await deportation from Israel


Filipino migrant workers feel a strong religious connection to Israel, where thousands of them work, as the birthplace of Jesus. But a recent wave of deportations is threatening that bond.

It was one of the wordiest, most sophisticated protest placards I’ve ever seen. The pink sign, gripped by two Filipino-Israeli boys, read in Hebrew: “Prime minister, how long will children, innocent of crime, pay the price for the situation you created with your own hands?” There were other slogans, too, at Tuesday afternoon’s demonstration against deportation, some catchy. “Kids aren’t criminals,” protesters chanted. “Why are they being arrested?” (It rhymes in Hebrew.)

But as the pink sign suggests, the struggle against the deportation of migrant workers and their children has gotten complicated. In the past, it was simple: These children speak Hebrew; they go to school here; they want to go to the army. They’re Israeli. So, they must stay here, in Israel.

But now that the state is deporting toddlers and infants—babies who speak no language at all—the issue has been stripped of its nationalist trappings. The debate, which is hardly raging anymore (at least not in the Israeli press), has been boiled down to the essential underlying problems: human rights, capitalism, and fair application of the law.

On Tuesday, only 50 Israeli and Filipino activists showed up at a distant corner of Ben Gurion International Airport to protest the latest round of deportations. Far from the public eye, demonstrators stood outside a small, two-story building—a lock-up facility where the state holds migrant workers and their children before expulsion. A ramp leading to the terminal was visible behind them. The road was lined with blue-and-white Israeli flags flapping in the wind.


The expulsions began in March, after a fierce public battle that spanned 20 months.

The government first announced its intention to deport undocumented migrant workers and their children in July 2009. A total of 1,200 children faced deportation. Then in August 2010, bowing to public pressure, the Israeli Cabinet set criteria that led to the naturalization of 700 of them. Most, but not all, of the 500 children still to be deported are under the age of 5. These families are being deported one at a time.

While a protest held in May 2010 attracted almost 10,000 demonstrators rallying against the deportations, the press and public are having a harder time rallying around the youngest deportees now.

“When people are against the deportation, they always imagine a 10-year-old that speaks Hebrew and goes to the Israeli school system and the scouts,” said Rotem Ilan, co-founder of Israeli Children, a grassroots movement that sprang up in response to the government’s deportation plans. “When they are talking about a 3-year-old, they don’t see him in the same way. But even a child that is 1 year old is traumatized by being in jail.”

“Their parents didn’t do any crime,” she added. “We made them illegal.”


A majority of the migrant workers who have been deported arrived to Israel legally, on 63-month state visas. Many still had current visas when they gave birth. But when their infants reached 3 months, Israeli policy forced the mothers to make a choice: Either stick their baby on a plane and keep their legal status as guest-workers or keep their child and become illegal.

In early April, the Israeli Supreme Court struck down the policy that had put these workers in that bind, with Justice Ayala Procaccia reading from the ruling. “[It] does not conform to Israel labor laws protecting workers’ rights during pregnancy and after birth,” she said. “It also contravenes the protection of migrant workers’ rights as determined by international conventions.”

But in part because Israel lacks a constitution, the state can essentially ignore the high court’s decision, as it has done for rulings on the barrier through the West Bank Palestinian village of Bilin and for media access to the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead.

Indeed, five years ago, the court struck down the policy of binding a migrant worker’s legal status to one particular employer, likening the arrangement to “modern day slavery.”

But last month, the Knesset circumvented the decision by amending the decades-old Entry Law. The additions will require migrant caregivers to live in certain regions of the country and will limit the number of times they can change employers. Human rights groups such as the Association for Human Rights in Israel called the new law the “Slavery Law,” claiming the amendment “severely harms” the “fundamental human rights” of caregivers.

And now, more than six weeks after the court struck down the policy that made expulsions possible, the state of Israel is continuing to carry out deportations.


A pregnant Filipina woman I’ll identify as “M” was one of the first to be expelled. She was picked up in late March of this year, along with her 3-year-old son. The children’s father, a Thai citizen working in Israel, had been deported to Thailand several months before. Because they were deported individually to their home countries—instead of as a group—it is unlikely that the young family will be reunited.

M faced other problems. She was in debt, as are a large majority of migrant laborers in Israel. Israeli employment agencies charge anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 or more for work and visa arrangements. Most workers cover this fee with unregulated loans that take years to repay. This is known as “debt bondage.”

According to Israeli law, the manpower agencies that recruit foreign workers can charge only 3,050 shekels, or about $900, for their services. But these groups are facing much less persecution than the undocumented workers and their children. And, largely unchecked, they continue to profit from the deportations because the so-called revolving door means new workers must pay fresh fees to replace the departing ones, as demand for their services remains high.

While the Israeli employment agencies have always been problematic, there used to be more oversight. Before the summer of 2009, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor monitored manpower agencies. Rivka Makover was in charge of licensing. I met her in March 2009—a petite woman who looked diminished and weary behind a huge, metal desk, overflowing with files. When she started in her position in July 2004, Makover told me, there were 350 manpower companies. Since then, she had revoked more than 230 licenses.

Just a few months after I met Makover, a major restructuring put the Ministry of Interior in charge. The ministry’s oft-criticized Oz Unit, the enforcement arm the Population and Immigration Authority, was formed, and deportations were announced. The focus seemed to shift from regulating the manpower agencies to kicking out the workers and their children.

Recently, Idit Lebovitch, an attorney with Kav LaOved, a local NGO that advocates for migrant, Palestinian, and Israeli workers, sent a dozen complaints to the Interior Ministry about agencies. “We have proof that they were involved in money things—things that Rivka [Makover] would close them for,” she told me. “And there was no action taken.”

Mya Guarnieri is an American-Israeli journalist and writer based in Tel Aviv. Her work has appeared in the The Guardian, Al Jazeera English, and The National, among other publications.

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Yael Taubman says:

Who will take care of our elderly and disabled as well as our loving and wonderful caregivers from
especially, the Philippines? Who can really afford an Israeli caregiver at the prices they demand?
What Israeli young woman or man would really choose this profession? The Army, University, then “let’s make lots of money” is the song that they usually sing. I know many Anglo/Israelis
who are NOT wealthy retired people who cannot affort the thousands of $$ it would cost to hire
Israeli and mostly arrogant or ignorant of the basic compassion that the far Eastern countries
are brought up with. It was so different in the early 70’s when I first came, but war and terrorism have wreaked their toll on our people.
Please don’t send these people away. We need their warmth and compassion to seep in to our

benj says:

The issue is very simple in fact. Does Israel want to become like Europe and become the home of a vast minority of foreigners with no cultural ties to the country, who will never integrate and generate only crime. Because, that’s basically what happened in Europe and Israelis know it. They live close to Europe, travel a lot to Europe and saw it happen.

Israel already has its share of demographic issues with Arabs (even if it is solving itself). We don’t need another one in 20 years.

Martin Ingall says:

Mya Guarnieri demonstrates yet again that liberalism is a mental disorder. Her brief missive here ignores all reason and the rule of law to boot. She somehow forgets to mention that the vast majority of israelis support the enforcement of the country’s clear and sound immigration law. Her agenda is one of cultural suicide for Israel. The immigrants who gave birth in Israel were all well aware of the status they and their children would have. Israel, thank God, is not alone. In Switzerland, where they’ve had the good sense to ban minarets on mosques, one cannot become a citizen even if third-generation born in the country. Is Ms. Guarnieri so self-loathing that she jumps at the chance to portray Israeli society as heartless by latching on to her ridiculous position. For good measure, here’s a link which may may her nauseous, as its supportive of Israel and the Jewish idea:

Shlomo says:

What did you expect from the current racist apartheid regime?

Shlomo says:

Love these comments. Sound just like Germans in 1933.

mya guarnieri says:

martin: thanks for your comment.

you remark that: “She somehow forgets to mention that the vast majority of israelis support the enforcement of the country’s clear and sound immigration law.”

in reality, israel has zero immigration law regarding migrant workers and their children. it has only policy, and that policy was recently struck down by the supreme court.

i’m guessing that you don’t live in israel because if you did, you would know that israeli public opinion was against the deportation (when the issue was still on its radar). last year’s protest that drew almost 10,000 people (and the crowd was mostly israeli, by the way) included a video montage of knesset members speaking out against the expulsion. they came from all sides of the political spectrum. the support was amazing. which is, in part, why the deportation was reduced from 1200 to 500 kids.

martin, you also say that i have ignored the “rule of law” in this article. which law might you be referring to? again, israel doesn’t have laws regarding the absorption of migrant workers and their children.

benj says:

“i’m guessing that you don’t live in israel because if you did, you would know that israeli public opinion was against the deportation”

Well I live in Israel and this is a complete lie. 10,000 people demonstrating is not “the majority” but a small demonstration by Israeli standards. Most Israelis do support the expulsion of foreign workers (please don’t speak of “deportation” this is really zilut hashoah).

mya guarnieri says:

benj: interesting that you ignored the second part of the sentence: included a video montage of knesset members speaking out against the expulsion.

i did not say that public opinion is against the deportation based on just the size of the protest. i also took care to point out that there are many knesset members from all sides of the political spectrum opposed to it. if the cause were as unpopular as you’d like readers to believe, these MKs wouldn’t have stood by it.

alan lee says:

Can all the muslims be deported please?

benj says:

That some MKs spoke against it, when all the left-wing Israeli medias were running a campaign on the subject, is hardly evidence.
Happily, it appears that the media influence on the public is very weak and that they know what’s good for them even if Yediot and Yonit Levi say the contrary.

Friedrich Lersch says:

To Martin Ingall,
living in Switzerland I can tell you, that there are ways to become Swiss, and as a doctor treating all social strata of society- I can tell you, it very often comes as a surprise who owns a Swiss pass ( people from all over the world) and who does not ( the Italian forth generation student in Switzerland who choses not to become Swiss). Arguing that voting against the local mosques to have minarets was a great thing reflects more your prejudiced thinking than deep knowledge of the situation in this country. The last vote that was held in the same spirit banned shechita to this day- it was held in the 20ies, when the average Swiss citizen was repulsed and felt menaced by east-european jews in Switzerland. Best regards, Friedrich

EDDIE says:

I honestly think it should be done on a case to case basis. There are people who come to Israel to escape wars would you be a able to look a Darfuri in the eyes and send him back to Sudan to be murderd or enslaved?

Nahjan says:

dep0rtati0n is a w0rldwide matter n0t only here in Israel, s0 i think if these pe0ple d0esn’t met the criteria it’s just pr0per f0r them t0 be deported…children who were born here but whose parents are, let say both Filipinos, doesn’t have the need t0 claim and fight to be an Israeli…aren’t they thinking,h0w’s that huh?!!..I find it so low that these people are insulting where they came fr0m, PhiLippines is their h0me, then they should g0 h0me!!!

jake says:

I was interested in reading this piece, but felt like it was too short and didn’t flesh out some of the issues more.

For example,
“intention to deport undocumented migrant workers”…well whats the normal standard procedure on that? Why are they “undocumented”?

“Because they were deported individually to their home countries—instead of as a group—it is unlikely that the young family will be reunited”….and why is it that they are unlikely to be reunited? Did they travel into Israel together? Why not just make Aliya at if everyone is in Israel?

There are instances of where the author expects the reader to know what is going and why these circumstances are the way they are.

The ending I think was meant to be a powerful, but sort’ve flopped:
“, sent a dozen complaints to the Interior Ministry about agencies…….“And there was no action taken.”

Well, firstly it seems that with new management they took a new direction. That is bound to happen anywhere… when you have a limited budget, and you have limited resources there is only so much they can focus on. Secondly, my thought was when they sent the letters..”oh ya thats going to work…” and then I read “and there was no action taken”…Im like and then what did they do… ….did the lawyer actually expect action? Seriously?

Finally, I agree with the above comment that I simply didnt feel a pull for the issue. It is worldwide problem, constantly being reported everywhere. If the author could have focused more on the ideas around effective solutions to these problems (beyond Rivka Makover ), it would have held my interest more.

Shlomo says:

Nothing but a racist apartheid state. Judaism is a racist cult that believes Jews are chosen and above all. They look down on. No Jews and their rabbis teach it is ok to kill non Jews.

Katz says:

please take your medicine

Why is this medication prescribed?
Haloperidol is used to treat psychotic disorders (conditions that cause difficulty telling the difference between things or ideas that are real and things or ideas that are not real). Haloperidol is also used to control motor tics (uncontrollable need to repeat certain body movements) and verbal tics (uncontrollable need to repeat sounds or words) in adults and children who have Tourette’s disorder (condition characterized by motor or verbal tics). Haloperidol is also used to treat severe behavioral problems such as explosive, aggressive behavior or hyperactivity in children who cannot be treated with psychotherapy or with other medications. Haloperidol is in a group of medications called conventional antipsychotics. It works by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain.

Rabbi Tony Jutner says:


Haim says:

“Their parents didn’t do any crime,” she added. “We made them illegal.”

NO. They knew full well that their working visa is conditioned on not getting pregnant. If this restriction was so repugnant to them, they could just forsake the whole idea and stay at home. Nobody forced them to come to Israel. Now, after they’ve broken their agreement with the Israeli government, at whose pleasure they’ve come to Israel at the first place, they want to use their children as a residency permit. Well, that should not stand. Mrs. Guarnieri is a certified Israel-basher and shameless promoter of the idea that the Jewish state is some kind of fascist dictatorship, but her displeasure doesn’t bother me in the least.

Borg says:

lets keep the Filipinos in Israel and send Ms Guarneri and her friends back to the Phillipines. Its a good trade


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The 500 infant children of migrant workers currently facing deportation expose the unsettled nature of Israel’s immigration policy for foreign caregivers

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