Tess, a Filipina caregiver in Israel, looked nervously to the left and then to the right as she crossed Neve Shanan Rd in Tel Aviv’s ethnic enclave. Tess was walking home from work cleaning homes for 12 hours straight. Tess walked home slowly with her head low and with her dark, brown hair covering her face, trying her best to remain unnoticed.
Why is Tess nervous? She overstayed her work visa and is working without a work permit in Israel. Tess doesn’t have any legal working papers so she could be picked up and deported by the Israeli immigration police at any time. Working without any papers, Tess lives in fear 24 hours a day. She desperately joins the rank of thousands of other workers in Israel working without authorization. Her situation is similar to millions of undocumented immigrants in many developed countries around the world. In the US alone, unauthorized immigration is estimated to be over 9 million (Migration Policy Institute 2003 estimate).
The Israeli immigration police would act upon the slightest hint of undocumented workers to catch and deport them. Tess could be walking down the street and the immigration police could randomly stop her. If she doesn’t have her papers with her, she could be placed in detention and sent for immediate deportation.
The immigration police could be knocking at Tess’ front door at any time and they could search her apartment. If she couldn’t show her working papers, she could be moved to detention for immediate deportation.
The immigration police could be raiding a neighborhood park and they could search anyone randomly. If Tess happens to be around and if she couldn’t show her legal papers, she could be sent to detention for immediate deportation.
This incident actually happened to Tess. She was enjoying a birthday party with friends who are also caregivers at the nearby Levinsky Park. The outing was highly anticipated by everyone as many of them worked for six days straight or even longer without a day off and this birthday party was a welcome respite. However, the immigration police interrupted their birthday party celebration and demanded everyone to show their immigration papers. Tess was lucky to narrowly escaped without being detected.
Tess was lucky enough to escape that close call in the park. But will she be lucky again as she walks home from work tonight? How about tomorrow night? Or the following night? I cannot imagine living in fear everyday. So this is how it would feel to many undocumented immigrants in Arizona when the state of Arizona starts enforcing a similar law in August 2010.
Tess lives constantly in fear because she doesn’t have the proper documents but she’s not alone. Recently, thousands of Filipino children were born in Israel but are in limbo; they also don’t have any legal papers to stay in Israel. Despite the hardships of living in fear, many Filipino families with their undocumented children chose to stay.
I did not dare to ask Tess why she chose to stay in Israel despite living in constant tension of being caught and deported. I know why. Tess does not see a future for herself and for her family if she chooses to come back home to the Philippines. She has no other choice but to stay.
Kapit sa patalim – a Filipino expression of desperation that you have to hang on to the edge of sharp knife to save yourself.