On a recent Saturday in south Tel Aviv, hundreds of children and their mothers gathered in Levinski Park. In a festive spurt of face painting, hula hooping and music organized by human rights groups, migrants called attention to their complicated legal status.
Under Israeli law, work permits prohibit migrants from marrying or having kids. So this Spring, Israel began deporting migrant mothers and their children. They deported 10 women and 11 children before the Supreme Court ordered the expulsions to stop.
But then in May, the Israeli parliament passed a bill that human rights advocates call the “slavery bill.” It gives the Ministry of Interior the power to restrict where caregivers can find work, and how many jobs they can get before they need to return home.
The Israeli government is implementing what we call the revolving door policy,” said Sigal Rozen from the Hotline for Migrant Workers. “They keep on bringing new workers constantly, deporting those who know their rights and demand more money. One of the ways to minimize the rights of the worker and to keep revolving door policy is by restricting them more and more.
Ami Pacheco came legally to Israel from the Philippines to work as a caregiver for the elderly. A year after she arrived she became pregnant with her daughter, Alainah, who at this moment is spinning on the merry-go-round in a Snow White costume. Because Pacheco had a child, she automatically lost her work visa.
“Jewish people want Jewish people,” Pacheco said. “Foreign children are not allowed to stay here. Because of their culture. It’s religious culture. They don’t want to mix their race to other foreign workers.”
Government officials say they are being sensitive, but ultimately the state’s identity trumps everything else.
“The decision of the Israeli government is connected to the Jewish character, we shouldn’t be ashamed of that, that Israel is a Jewish country,” said Roi Lachmanovitch, a spokesperson for Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
Shirly Arieli, who works with a group called Israeli Children, said really heartbreaking to see the children live with this every day.
“They were born here, they were raised here,” Arieli said. “They are completely Israeli. Most children don’t speak their language of origin. They might understand it but they respond to their parents in Hebrew. Everything is exactly like their other Israeli classmates, except that they live with this constant fear.”
Lachmanovitch said the problem is that their parents use the children as a safety insurance to be here in Israel. “They use the children and say to the authorities. We have children, please don’t send us back.”
Pacheco now has a second child. She stays home, literally hiding, taking care of her kids, as well as the children of her three Filipina housemates. She says she rarely leaves her home. She goes to the market to stock up on food only once a week. Israeli human rights groups are fighting the government’s deportation policies.
“People get really scared of what will happen to the Jewish nation in Israel,” Arieli said. “A country which is such a young country built up entirely of refugees fleeing persecution and building this tiny country out of nothing. It’s amazing to me that most people who are against this they don’t see that. We, almost everyone here who is Israeli has grandparents who were fleeing something, from different parts of the world.”
Ami Pacheco said sometimes she misses her family in Philippines.
“Comparing Israel to Philippines, it’s better to have a job in Israel here than in the Philippines. Because of that, we have to sacrifice. Be away from our family,” she said.
Shabbat, the day of rest in Judaism, also becomes a day of rest for the many migrant workers who fear being deported. Pacheco and her peers can get out for some much needed fresh air for themselves and the kids.
“When it’s Shabbat, Friday and Saturday, immigration is not active,” Pacheco said. “It’s very safe during Shabbat. That’s why we’re doing our best to take our children out on Shabbat, to the park to make them enjoy. We have a picnic, with my friends, that is my rest day also in our work.”
Still, Pacheco keeps a close eye on her little Snow White. She knows this is no fairy tale and that a happy ending isn’t guaranteed.
During the broadcast on June 17, 2011, this report was featured alongside an interview with Kathleen Newland, co-Founder of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC. You can listen to our interview with Newland here.