Federal authorities move to deport illegal Israeli immigrants

Federal authorities move to deport illegal Israeli immigrants

SEATTLE — Those attractive Israelis you may see at the mall hawking colorful beauty and hair products from the Dead Sea may not be as innocuous as they seem.
Many are in the U.S. illegally, working in violation of their tourist visas, and the U.S Department of Homeland Security has taken notice.
In early December, 12 Israelis were rounded up in Kennewick, in eastern Washington.
One, Yuval Oran, remains in detention and has been charged with harboring illegal aliens. The other 11, including Oran’s sister, have posted bond and are expected to testify against him.
A few, citing financial hardship, will be able to return home once they provide video depositions, according to court documents obtained by JTNews.
“They’ve turned the workers into witnesses,” said Chaplain Gary Friedman, executive director of Seattle-based Jewish Prisoner Services International, which has been providing services to the Israelis while in custody.
At approximately the same time, a smaller number of Israelis in the Seattle-Tacoma area also were arrested by federal agents.
A recent article in the Israeli paper Yediot Achronot reported that similar arrests also have been made in Texas.
The Israelis who manage these mall kiosks — most are here legally as dual citizens or resident aliens — say they are running franchise businesses.
Friedman believes, however, that they are a network of con men who entice young Israelis fresh out of the army or school with the promise of making a lot of money in a short amount of time.
“There might be a handful of them who are decent people,” Friedman said, “but by and large they’re con men.”
The consequences, as the arrested Israelis are finding out, are not so minimal. Deportees are banned from re-entering the United States for 10 years, and there are very few exceptions.
The Israelis working at the kiosks know what they’re getting themselves into, and the situation is far from anything resembling human trafficking, Friedman said. The ringleaders who bring them in rent comfortable apartments and supply computers and cars, and the workers can leave whenever they wish.
The problem, Friedman said, is they don’t want to leave.
“They can make in three months here what they can make in three years in Israel,” Friedman said the organizer of one such group told him.
Friedman spoke to one of the kiosk managers earlier this month as he cleared out an apartment that had been vacated by about 15 Israelis. The fact that so many of the Israelis left so quickly means the attention from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is having an effect.
Gideon Lustig, Israel’s deputy consul general to the Pacific Northwest, said he wouldn’t classify the arrests as a problem, but admitted that “we are concerned about the growing number of Israelis working illegally in Washington State.”
Once the Israelis are arrested, they are held and released on bond, and then generally ordered deported. Lustig said the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been working with authorities in the state, but has refrained from attempts to impose any influence on behalf of the detainees.
“These people are responsible for their actions, and we have been working closely with the Washington authorities, who are very cooperative and communicative with us,” Lustig said. “We are trying to communicate these issues back to people in Israel so they would know what might be the consequences of their doing this, but we are not getting legally involved, as this is the law of the state.”
The Foreign Ministry has, mainly through Jewish Prisoner Services, been working to provide kosher food and shelter to the released detainees.
Families in Israel have pleaded with Friedman to post bond, pay attorneys’ fees or purchase airline tickets.
But worse than the financial toll, Friedman said, he worries about the way their actions reflect on the Jewish community.
“Obviously the immigration authorities are not thinking very highly of Israelis these days, and I hate to see that because it reflects on Jews and Israel,” Friedman said. “Not just Israelis but Jews in general.”