The “Slavery Law” and Beyond: New Bills Targeting Foreign Residents

The Knesset Internal Affairs Committee is currently discussing three government-sponsored bills that aim to restrict the legal status of non-Jews in Israel. If enacted, the bills will severely harm the basic rights of many individuals and introduce a far-reaching reform to Israel’s immigration policy.
This Saturday, March 26, ACRI – together with Kav La’Oved, Hotline for Migrant Workers, Physicians for Human Rights, Israeli children and Koach LaOvdim – will hold a joint demonstration of Israelis and migrant workers calling to cancel the “Slavery Law” (explained in the first section of this article). See more details in the invitation below or in the Facebook event, and please join us.

I. The “Slavery Law”

The first bill aims to restrict the conditions of migrant workers in the nursing professions. According to this bill, the Minister of Interior will have the power to bind migrant caretakers to their employers; to subsections of nursing services (e.g.  to only work with the elderly, the severely handicapped, or minors); to a set number of employers they may switch; and to a specific geographic location in which they may work.

This bill constitutes an attempt to restore the previous arrangement that bound migrant workers to their employers, and which the Supreme Court has already criticized in 2006 as “a type of modern slavery” that infringes on a wide range of protected human rights, primarily the right to personal dignity and freedom.

It should be further stressed that the new bill mainly targets women, since the majority of migrant caretakers in Israel are women. As vulnerable as the entire community of migrant workers is, the women within it are even more so, and this bill will further aggravate their situation. Women will be bound to their (sometimes abusive) employers; women will be bound to geographic areas; women will be arrested and deported. This is what this bill is all about.

II. “Cooling Period” for Illegal Residents

The second bill stipulates that persons who stayed in Israel illegally will be able to acquire any legal status only after a 1-10 year “cooling period” outside the country. The proposed bill currently includes spouses of Israeli residents and citizens; parents of Israeli minors, disregarding the child’s welfare; children and elderly parents of Israeli residents and citizens; persons with no citizenship; native Negev Bedouins whose status has never been arranged; migrant workers; victims of human trafficking; humanitarian cases; and many more.

Those who will be mostly hurt by this bill are families of Israeli citizens and non-citizens (spouses, parents or children). In the absence of a clear immigration policy for non-Jews, the bill will undermine the possibility of arranging the status of non-Israeli family members of Israeli citizens and residents. This, despite two Supreme Court rulings – in 1999 and in 2006 – that addressed the severe damage caused by requiring non-resident spouses of Israeli citizens to leave the country before settling their status, deeming it unconstitutional as it impairs on the basic right to have a family life. The court further ruled that such policies fail the proportionality test, because their speculative advantages are quite questionable when compared with the certain harm they cause to the couples’ rights.

III. Tribunal on Immigration and Status Affairs

The third bill seeks to establish a tribunal for immigration and status matters within the Ministry of Justice. The judges of this court shall be employed by the executive branch, on a 3 year contract that may be extended at its discretion. The judges will be allowed to rule without any public debate; in fact, without holding an oral debate at all. The authorities will be exempt from presenting various documents to the court and will be allowed to demand ex-parte hearings. Thus, this bill wishes to establish a legal instance that undermines each and every rule of natural justice.

Matters of immigration and the status of non-Jews are not currently regulated by a clear immigration policy. Therefore, once this tribunal is established, all the executive, legislative, and judicial powers pertaining to the immigration and status of non-Jews will be in the hands of the Ministries of Justice and Interior. The ministries will determine the policy, introduce procedures, execute them, judge them, and pass judgment on whether their policy and its execution are even legal. Various countries have special immigration tribunals, some of those even within the executive branch, but they follow detailed immigration laws that were established by the legislative branch, not by the executive branch itself.

The reasons for the establishment of such a tribunal are clear. The Israeli judicial system is overburdened with status and immigration cases, due to arbitrary or illegal decisions made by the authorities, as well as to intolerable bureaucracy. The courts have repeatedly criticized the executive branch for its policies and violations, and thus the executive branch decided to establish its own tribunal and rid itself of the court’s criticism.

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Categories: Anti-Democratic Initiatives, Citizenship and Residency, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Migrant Workers, Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

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