Global doors slam shut on immigrants
While Arizona's anti-immigrant law gets all the attention, countries around the world are pursuing tough immigration polices on a scale rarely seen in history.
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Shifting demographics and a dilution of national identity represent another reason for toughening stances toward outsiders. Israel, for instance, once relied heavily on Palestinian labor as the country raced to join the developed world. But after two violence-ridden intifadas and a paradigm shift toward separation, Israel severely curtailed the number of Palestinian workers allowed into the country – and began looking abroad instead.Skip to next paragraph
Today, there is a preponderance of Chinese working on building sites, Thais on farms, and Filipinos in elderly care. And as Israel has become more affluent, people from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Latin America have come seeking work. Many of them end up liking it and decide to stay, legally or illegally. They put down roots by getting married and have children who go to public schools.
For some conservative Israeli politicians, that represents a threat to the Jewish state. The Arab growth rate in Israel consistently outpaces the Jewish one. In a 2009 report, Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics estimated that the Arab population was growing at 2.6 percent, whereas the Jewish population was increasing by 1.7 percent. The fear is that economic migrants from Africa will shift the ethnic and religious mix further, making it impossible for Israel to maintain a Jewish majority.
"Israel has a legitimate fear of hundreds of thousands of Africans coming in and not being able to handle it," says Jean-Marc Lilling, a Jerusalem-based lawyer involved in immigration and asylum advocacy. "There are also security concerns about Al Qaeda infiltrating through the Sinai. The problem is that when you try to be systematic about who gets to stay and who doesn't, you fall short on the humanitarian aspect. You can't deport a child, but then every year keep bringing in thousands more people to build your houses, pick your produce, and take care of your elderly."
As part of an overall crackdown, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Aug. 1 to set guidelines for granting legal status to the children of illegal foreign workers. Under the new rules, some 800 children will be allowed to stay while another 400 will be deported. "This is a tangible threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel; therefore, we will make a decision that is balanced between the desire to take these children into our hearts and the desire not to create an incentive for continued illegal migration that could flood the foundation of the Zionist state," Mr. Netanyahu said before the cabinet vote.
Children allowed to stay will have had to be in Israel for at least five years and speak Hebrew. That leaves Alexandra Lopez, a native of Colombia who has been living in Israel for nearly a decade, in danger of deportation. Her son is close to 4-1/2 but won't make the cut. Though Ms. Lopez has been living in Israel since she was 15, she's technically illegal as well. Israel has no naturalized citizenship.