Angie Robles, a 52-year-old migrant worker from the Philippines, recently caught her 15-year-old grandson M. smoking. While it seems like a normal act of teenage rebellion—and a small one at that—Robles says it was a sign that her grandson has lost all hope.
When Robles confronted M. about his smoking, she explained to him that she felt it was a step down the wrong path. His answer, according to Robles: “What future will I have with this situation, with the deportation?”
Robles left Laguna, a province next to Manila, in 1987 for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Her sister was working in Jordan at the time for a Palestinian family and her employers’ relatives needed help in Ramallah.
Robles had been struggling as a single mother since her husband left her, several years before. This was an opportunity to give her seven-year-old son a better life, Robles thought. So, when she was 27, Robles left her only child with her mom and headed to Ramallah, arriving just before the First Intifada.
She remembers the Intifada as the sounds she heard from her employer’s home: the thud of stones landing on the sidewalk; metal shutters rolling down and slamming shut as stores closed; the crack of Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and live ammunition at Palestinian protesters. Robles also remembers living under Israeli-imposed curfew.
Robles recalls her employer explaining the conflict to her, “Nobody wants a piece of the cake. Everyone wants the whole cake.”
During the First Intifada, Israel began restricting Palestinian freedom of movement—a form of collective punishment that, in Gaza, would eventually turn into the blockade. Many Palestinian day laborers could no longer reach their jobs inside Israel on a regular basis. Seeking a steady supply of labor, Israeli employers turned to migrants.
Robles left Ramallah for Tel Aviv in 1992 because she’d heard that the money was better there. She was also looking for a community. “There in Ramallah for four and a half years,” she says, with a laugh, “I didn’t [see] any Filipinos at all. I [was] the only one.”
When Robles’s son finished high school in 1997, he joined his mother in Israel in the hopes of studying here. But he found a job instead. After he had two sons, including M., with two different women, he kept working to support his children.
When Robles’s son died suddenly in 2000, M.’s mother gave M. to her Angie.
Today, Robles and her grandson live in a small apartment near Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. They share the place with a Filipina migrant worker and her young daughter. The apartment is cramped; I conduct my interview with Robles on the porch that doubles as a bedroom.
Through the years, the only time M.’s mother came to the apartment was to prove to the immigration police that she had a child in Israel so she could avoid deportation. Otherwise, Robles says, “She did not give the [impression] that she knew her son, not on his birthday or Christmas or any occasion.”
M.’s mother popped up in 2005, when Israel opened a “one-time” window for the children of undocumented migrant workers to gain residency status, which in turn granted the parents permanent residency. But M.’s application, which was filed by his grandmother, was unsuccessful. M.’s mother has since been deported.
M.’s half-brother, who is also 15, was granted status.
While M., too, met the state’s criteria for naturalization, he was turned down on the grounds that Robles only has temporary guardianship—which she renews annually—rather than permanent guardianship.
When the state opened another “one-time window” in 2010, Robles applied again on M.’s behalf. They are still awaiting an answer but they expect a “no” as Robles still does not have permanent guardianship. If the Ministry of Interior declines M.’s application, the two will be subject to expulsion.
Israel began deporting families of migrant workers in March 2011. Until recently, however, all of the children who were expelled were four and under. Now, the state is also arresting and deporting older children who are enrolled in the school system.
Speaking to +972, Robles explains that she can’t get permanent guardianship without an Israeli identification card and that she can’t get an Israeli identification card through her grandson without permanent guardianship.
“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” Robles says. “I don’t know which issue to address first.”
She emphasizes that she’s not worried about securing residency for herself but for her grandson. He has never visited the Philippines; he doesn’t speak Tagalog or any other of the local languages. With her sister and mother in Laguna, Robles would be happy to forego naturalization herself and return to the Philippines when M. is old enough to take care of himself. But first she wants to see that her grandson is “stable,” she says.
Robles doesn’t understand why Israel, which calls itself a Western country, doesn’t give citizenship to those born on its soil as is the case in the United States.
Robles adds that her grandson’s lack of legal status has already impacted his life, “He cannot join the basketball league because he does not have a teudat zehut (Israeli identity card).”
They discovered this several years ago, when M. tried to join a local team. That was the moment M. understood the repercussions of living a paperless life. “He was so upset… From that time, he isn’t playing [basketball] so much anymore.”
Not only will M. be unable to join the Israeli army when he finishes high school, as he hopes to do, he will not be able to work legally.
“Now he’s [studying] but for what? He can’t live without a teudat zehut.”