Photo Credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90
African illegal migrant during a protest outside the Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv, February 11, 2014.

Israel’s Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration announced on Wednesday that it will return more than NIS 79 million ($22.5 million) to some 4,000 illegal migrants who requested their deposit money. The announcement comes after the High Court of justice had revoked the deposit law requiring illegal migrants to set aside 20% of their earnings for a deposit that they can only withdraw when they leave the country.

According to Population Authority data, 8,612 illegals have applied to withdraw their deposit funds. More than half of the applications were processed, and next week the authority is expected to deposit the funds in their bank accounts.

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Just days after the court’s ruling had been issued, the Population Authority established an online service through which illegal migrants can apply for the withdrawal of the funds. Many illegals have not yet claimed their money, and the Population Authority is considering sending alerts to anyone who has not yet applied.

South Tel Aviv residents protest the infestation of illegal African migrants around their homes, June 21, 2015. / Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Berhane Negasi, one of the emergency leaders of the Eritrean community for the coronavirus crisis, told Haaretz in response to the Population Authority’s announcement: “We are happy, we have been waiting for this day for a very long time.”

However, Negasi noted that many would probably not receive their money because “their employers did not make any deposits at all, or they worked under the table.”

Negasi said the coronavirus crisis took a particularly heavy toll on the illegal migrant community. “Many people have gotten into very difficult financial and mental states,” he said. “There are hundreds of families who have no food. The traumas that people have gone through in their lives have surfaced during these months that we are isolated at home, and there is no way to make a living and no money. We are people who have escaped murder, who have been through atrocities, and this situation takes us back there.”

The Deposit Law went into effect in May 2017, and according to it, the illegal migrant can only redeem the money in the deposit fund if he leaves Israel. Last month, the High Court of Justice ruled that the law was unconstitutional and therefore repealed it. The judges ordered the state to repay illegal migrants within 30 days the amount accumulated in the fund.

The High Court justified its ruling with the argument that one fifth of a salary taken off each month seriously harms illegal migrants, who usually earn below the minimum wage, and whose wages are their only asset.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut wrote in her ruling that “using economic incentives is a legitimate means of realizing immigration policy, but the measure chosen in our case – removing a fifth of the employee’s wages until they leave Israel – inflicts a clear, tangible and significant violation of the infiltrating worker’s right to property, while its benefit is limited in scope.”

And with that, the High Court torpedoed one of Israel’s most effective means of ridding the country of some 50,000 illegal infiltrators without interfering directly in their freedom of movement and all other human rights.

Is it possible to garnish 20% of the High Court justices’ pay until they leave of their own volition?

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