The Israeli government came under additional pressure to change its policy of deporting illegal migrants on Tuesday, as the Congressional Black Caucus and the Jewish Agency both urged a different approach.
The CBC has circulated a letter supporting a proposal being made by advocates for the migrants to send them to other countries via the existing international refugee processing systems, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. The Israeli plan, which took effect this month, gives the migrants a choice between deportation with cash incentives and free airfare, or jail for an indefinite time.
“As a close friend of the United States and a vital regional ally, Israel is a beacon of democracy and good governance in the Middle East,” the letter says. “Given such a discouraging state of affairs, we seek to mitigate a potential humanitarian crisis.”
The letter acknowledges Israel’s legitimate security and social concerns in allowing the migrants to stay in the country, but points out that the current scheme does not adequately take their safety into consideration.
It notes that the migrants are “primarily from Eritrea and Sudan, countries characterized by political instability and violence” and that many were “victims of kidnapping, torture and [other] violence.”
According to Haaretz, 15 of the 49 members of the CBC have signed the letter, including some who are regarded as friends of Israel, among them Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Also on Tuesday, the Jewish Agency spoke on behalf of some 500 African migrants who came to Israel as minors and have already become part of the society.
In a letter, the Agency board urged Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri to grant them a legal status in Israel, saying they arrived as unaccompanied minors and had been “integrated in the education system of youth villages operated by The Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Education.”
“These youngsters have grown up in an Israeli educational environment, speak fluent Hebrew, are imbued with Israeli culture, and are loyal to the State of Israel,” the agency said. “Therefore, it is right that they be granted legal status.”
The Agency also called on the government to ensure “every migrant has an opportunity to apply for asylum and receive transparent due process in the examination of their application.”
Israeli officials including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have defended the deportation program as being consistent with international law and said that genuine asylum seekers would not be deported. However, they insist that the vast majority of them are job seekers who infiltrated across the Sinai border and Israel has no legal obligation to keep them.
The Congressional Black Caucus and the Jewish Agency thus join a campaign for the migrants that in recent weeks has included Israeli jurists, doctors, writers, former ambassadors, American Jewish leaders and some Holocaust survivors.