Rotem Ilan, the young activist who played a key role in persuading the Israeli government not to deport 1,200 children of migrant workers three years ago, has told the JC that the country still operates a “revolving door” policy on immigration.
In 2010, Ms Ilan sent a letter to President Shimon Peres alerting him to the impending deportation.
“Why is your moral voice not heard on this issue?” she asked in the letter, stating that Israel needed “to take care of the foreigner.”
Mr Peres then spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue and, as a result, the deportation was cancelled two days before it had been due to take place.
Ms Ilan, 24, said that current regulations are preventing some children from obtaining residency even though they have been in Israel for years.
In London for a New Israel Fund breakfast last week, Ms Ilan said: “Two hundred of them are over 18 and don’t qualify because they are no longer in the school system. But they should be the first to get legal status; they have been here the longest.”
Despite open door policies in the past for migrants, there are no formal immigration laws, apart from the Right of Return for Jews.
“Israel’s revolving door policy needs to stop,” said Ms Ilan.
Ms Ilan began her campaign in 2009, when the Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, said he would not grant legal status to some 1,200 children of migrant workers.
The government cited a clause in the contracts of most migrant workers stating that they were not allowed to have children and that women had to leave if they got pregnant. The ministry required that children were sent home within three months or parents would risk loosing their visa.
The subsequent u-turn by Mr Netanyahu was only a “small victory”, said Ms Ilan, who continued her campaign.
In 2010, the government granted legal residency for 700 of the 1,200 children.
In April 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court revoked the regulation on pregnant migrant woman, saying that it infringed on the “right to become a parent and have a family”.
Ms Ilan is determined to convince the Israeli government to grant legal status to the remaining children.