More than 30 top Israeli tech and industry leaders appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt plans to deport children born to migrant workers in Israel.
In a letter sent to Netanyahu Monday, the signees stated that “a few hundred kids cannot threaten Israel’s unique character” as the state of the Jewish people.
Among those who signed the letter are billionaire businessman Morris Kahn, Landa Corporation Ltd. founder and CEO Benny Landa, Israeli auto importer Shmuel Harlap, tech investor Yossi Vardi and businessman Ehud (Udi) Angel.
The children in question are the offspring of nursing workers, mostly from the Philippines, who arrived in Israel legally to work as caregivers for the elderly.
Filipina caregiver Rosemarie Perez and her Israel-born 13-year old son Rohan were deported last week while three other Filipino families—all with school-aged children—are still appealng their cases.
Another Filipina and her 11-month-old child did not resist deportation when arrested last month.
The latest arrests involved Randy and Sheila Bacarro and daughters Mika, 12, and Maureen, 10, early Sunday morning.
They are detained at Givon Prison in separate children and adult cells while awaiting a final ruling.
“I want to get out of here and see my friends and my school,” Maureen posted on Facebook, translated from Hebrew. “I hope we get out of here.”
Malacañang and the Foreign Affairs department said they are monitoring the situation.
Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz was also quoted as saying workers in foreign countries—not just Filipinos—should respect their host countries’ laws and realize it’s time to leave when their visas have expired.
Israel currently has around 60,000 migrant nursing workers, 80% of which are women, and 50,000 of which have valid work visas, according to data from Kav LaOved, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit group dedicated to maintaining labor rights in the Israeli industry.
Migrant nursing workers in Israel are not protected by laws limiting the working hours of Israeli citizens, and can be employed on a 24-hour basis as live-in caregivers without being paid overtime.
This, along with relatively low financial support by the state for the elderly, makes hiring a migrant worker the only viable option for many Israelis in need of constant care.
Unlike in the U.S. and several other countries, Israeli law gives no special status to children born to foreign nationals within the country’s borders.
While migrant workers in Israel are eligible for maternity leave and a birth grant, same as Israeli citizens, giving birth may affect their visa status.
Under Israeli law, a caregiver that gives birth during her initial 63-month visa period can choose whether to keep the child in the country with her until her visa expires, likely without being renewed, or send the baby back to her homeland before returning to work.
A caregiver that gives birth after her initial work permit period has passed must exit the country with the child, and can return—alone—only if her latest employer is willing to give her her job back.
Since February, public outcry began to surface as Israeli media reported that Israel’s Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration has begun to issue deportation orders to migrant workers whose visas were not renewed and their children.
Around 600 children, most of which are integrated in the country’s public education system are currently facing deportation.
Earlier this year, the state agreed to halt deportations and arrests until the end of the school year, in late June.
Since July, dozens of migrant workers and their children, some as young as babies, have been arrested by immigration officials and scheduled for deportation.
In Monday’s letter, the signees state that the children’s mothers have nursed the country’s parents and grandparents for years and “are now being deported solely for bringing a child into this world.”
They also mentioned that in 2009, under similar circumstances, the state granted temporary residentship to several hundreds of children and their families, and urge Netanyahu to do the same now. (With a report from CTech)