2007-06-15 Nick Champeaux
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France gets tough

Nicolas Sarkozy during this weekend's parliamentary electionNicolas Sarkozy during this weekend's parliamentary election
The draft introduces extra hurdles for immigrants who want to bring their relatives over. Candidates would have do undergo a language test in their country of origin, before they leave for France.

State officials would also verify that their children are integrating successfully. If they rule that it’s not the case, the government would have the option to restrict their access to social benefits. Patrick Simon is a senior researcher at France’s Institute of demographic studies, and specialises in immigration and integration. He is against the move, because he says there is no legal way of assessing someone’s integration.

«As researchers we use integration as a concept and as a theory, as researchers. And we try to understand how immigrants make their way in a new society, but it’s really a tough job to define indicators. Each indicator may have a different meaning, each indicator gives us information about integration but they can’t be used as a criteria to allow someone to stay or not in a country, I would say it’s an arbitrary decision.»

Jean Pierre DuboisJean Pierre Dubois
Jean Pierre Dubois is president of the French human rights league, and teaches law at a Paris university. He adds that there is not one single way of integrating, and he is opposed to the name itself of the new ministry of immigration and national identity:

“The only answer to the question: “what is national identity in France”, is in the first article of the French constitution. It states that France is a republic, a secular republic, and a democracy that’s all. If you try to say more, it’s very dangerous for democracy, because in a democracy, national identity is not ruled by the government. President Sarkozy and Mister Hortefeux are elected people, they have the legitimacy to make political decisions, but not to define national identity in place of the French people. We don’t have a ministry in charge of freedom, we don’t have a ministry for brotherhood, which is good, and we don’t need a ministry of national identity.”

Protesters against proposed immigration lawProtesters against proposed immigration law
President Nicolas Sarkozy has already reformed France’s legislation on immigration twice when he served as Interior minister from 2002 to last march. His last bill was voted less than twelve months ago. It made the so-called “welcome and integration” contract compulsory. The contract requires people seeking residency permits, to commit themselves to learn the French language and French republican values. Dana is from the Philippines, she is in her mid forties. She has just stepped out of the local offices of the national agency for the welcome of foreigners, where medical tests and training sessions are delivered. She came to France with her husband and their two children:

“We did want to stay together and so we are going through whatever paperwork needs to be done.”

What about French lessons?

Protester against proposed immigration lawProtester against proposed immigration law
“I don’t know yet I may be told that I would have to, yes. You know I think when you move to a country, you have to be prepared to adjust to the culture whatever that takes. We come to their country to be prepared to work things out, to assimilate, but I do find that many French people are helpful now, they do make an effort to speak English, and that is really helpful, for people like myself.”

Mahmoud Mahamat agrees, he is from Egypt. He works in the construction sector. He told me, in a broken French, that he was grateful that the French government was funding his language lessons…. …but he is opposed to further restrictions to foreigners right’ to a family life:

“If both parents are together, it’s much better for the education of their children. There is always something missing if parents are a continent apart. So I think we have the right to a family life.”

Critics say that the draft immigration bill was leaked to the press conveniently before the second round of the parliamentary election. They believe the aim is to convince former far right national front voters who have cast a ballot for Sarkozy in the presidential election, to give their ballot to Sarkozy’s camp again on Sunday. Immigration and national identity Minister Brice Hortefeux said the bill will be debated by parliament this summer, and that until then, ongoing discussions will decide its final form.

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