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Israel may deport kids of foreign workers

Migrant workers are not allowed relationships, let alone children, while in Israel.

Still, because Israel signed the United Nations treaty on child rights in 1990, even children who live in Israel illegally are allowed to enroll in the school system.

Near the Tel Aviv central bus station is the rundown Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, the only area where one can see this cross-section of ethnicities in Israel. The mothers here have formed an ad hoc “neighborhood watch” to look out for immigration police.

“I’m afraid,” said Mila, a Filipino mother with an 8-year-old son on the deportation list. “I run with my son, hide everywhere, cry in front of the buses when the immigration police question me.”

Israelis began recruiting foreign labor during the Intifadas, the Palestinian uprisings two decades ago, when security issues and border closings made employing Palestinians more difficult. Now, Thai migrants mostly work in agriculture while Filipinos are primarily caregivers for the elderly.

Private Israeli manpower companies, in exchange for commission fees far more than the legal limit, often ranging up to $10,000, recruit them in their home countries.

“No one controls this industry,” said Idit Lebovitch, care-giving sector coordinator for the Tel Aviv-based Worker’s Hotline. “Because most of these so-called agencies are not official agencies, you can’t even track the person the employee paid.”

Foreign laborers work for minimum wage, rarely enough to pay back the debt incurred from recruiter fees.

“The maximum time they allow us to work here [63 months] is really not enough for us to recover expenses,” said Ferdie, a caregiver who graduated in electrical engineering but could not find a job in the Philippines.

Ferdie’s elderly employer just passed away and under Israeli law, that’s equivalent to being fired. He now faces a difficult and all-too-common decision: stay and work illegally, or head home.

Berlyn, another Filipino caregiver, sleeps six days a week in a converted dressing room in order to help her elderly employer, who has Parkinson’s Disease, throughout the night. As a live-in worker, she’s on call 22 hours a day.

“I am his arms, his hands, his feet — because he can’t do anything,” she said. “He can’t walk alone, he can’t eat alone or pick up a glass of water because his hands are shaking.”

On her free Saturdays, Berlyn returns to her Neve Sha’anan apartment where several mattresses, clothes and other possessions fill every corner.

“In the wintertime one bed sleeps three people,” Berlyn said. “We pay our $600 rent and split it by 11 people.”

Berlyn sends her whole paycheck save $100 each month to her children in the Philippines; her youngest, now 5 years old, was only 1 year old when she left.

Moriel Matalon, chairman of UNICEF in Israel, said the government should take action against its “revolving door” policy of deporting families, while simultaneously allowing entry to new workers.

“In the Bible — the same one Eli Yishai reads — it says: ‘Love the foreigner, because you were foreign workers in the Land of Egypt,’” Matalon said. “Yet we’ve forgotten this, just 60 years after we created a state.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the reference to the children granted residency five years ago. About 900 were granted residence, not 150.