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Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité at stake with controversial new French immigration bill

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité at stake with controversial new French immigration bill

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قانون الهجرة الفرنسي الجديد... ناقوس الموت لقيم الحرية والمساواة والأخوة

“We have lost hope. They put the good and the ugly in the same basket and destroyed our dreams of settling down after so many years of waiting,” shares Ahmed, a 30-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, who has worked in construction in Paris for the past four years.

He tells Raseef22, “This is the prevailing feeling among all immigrants who do not have residency. We fear that we will not be taken care of medically in the event of a serious accident, or being deported despite our contributions to the French economy and our work in difficult professions.”

The young man, skilled in plumbing, painting, and construction, confirmed that his asylum application was rejected early last year. He appealed last April, and has since been waiting for a hearing.

A law in the colors of the far-right

The controversial new bill marks a change in the nature of the restrictive immigration policies enacted for 40 years. The bill, known as ‘Controlling immigration While Improving Integration’, a reflection of France’s extreme far-right, was passed following a week of heated debate in the Senate. It bears little resemblance to the bill draft initially proposed. Many consider the new law the death knell for “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, France’s core tenets.

Many consider France’s new immigration law a death knell for “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, France’s core tenets.

The text was approved by Parliament on Tuesday, December 19, 2023, after a joint committee approved reintroducing the criminalization of illegal residency, and extending the required period for a person of legal status to access certain social benefits (family allowances, personal housing aid, etc.). It also allows for the detention of asylum seekers at the border, and permits the withdrawal of residency permits that do not adhere to “the values of the Republic”. The law also extends deadlines for family reunification, constricts conditions for student migration and healthcare, and introduces parliamentary voting on annual migration quotas.

The possibility of naturalization will not be attainable for individuals born in France to two foreign parents if the individual is convicted of a crime, and those born in France will only be eligible for citizenship after they have turned 16.

Nadia M., a Moroccan mother of three living in Lyon, considers her three children’s future uncertain. All three of whom were born, raised, and educated in France.

Speaking to Raseef22, she says, “It's extremely painful for our children, born in this country, to wait years to become French. This process will instill in them a sense of distrust, as though they are questionable until proven otherwise, as if they are second-class citizens.”

Civil and public outrage

Various associations and unions have mobilized in response to the new bill, calling for organized marches and protests ahead of the Constitutional Council's ruling on January 25th. This crucial event will determine whether the text aligns with the French constitution; the government itself acknowledged that certain parts of the text are “clearly unconstitutional”.

“It's extremely painful for our children, born in this country, to wait years to become French. This will make them distrustful, believe that they are inherently questionable until proven otherwise, and that they are second-class citizens.”

Organizations advocating for the rights of immigrants continue to call for national unity and for the French to rally. A demonstration was organized on Sunday, January 21st, demanding that French President Emmanuel Macron abandon this law and uphold the core values of the state, Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

A "repressive bill"

Jean-Claude Samouiller, head of Amnesty International in France, condemned the new “extremely repressive” bill, confirming to Raseef22, “The struggle will persist.”

According to him, although “the initial proposal was firm and humane”, this bill “aligns with a racist and discriminatory discourse that deems immigrants a threat and is built upon the fear of others and their differences. The fundamental laws of human rights have been violated here.”

Among the most shocking reforms is “the prohibition of emergency housing rights for irregular immigrants, forcing them to live on the streets, exposing them to the harsh cold and homelessness. This also compromises the right to a dignified life by linking social and family assistance to difficult conditions, which prevents integration and increases hardship. We are also greatly concerned about the upcoming reform of government medical assistance following a commitment made by the Prime Minister, which would pose a serious threat to the right to health.”

“The new law is oppressive, racist and discriminatory, deeming immigrants a threat. It is built upon fear of the other and their differences. The fundamental laws of human rights have been violated here” – Jean-Claude Samouiller, Amnesty International France

“Another setback is the restriction of family reunification, even though every individual has the right to live with dignity in a family environment without bias or discrimination. This is in addition to the fact that, previously, denied asylum applications, submitted by the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA), would be analyzed by a committee of three judges. But now, only one judge will rule over these decisions.”

Proposals and a desire for amendment

The Refugee Forum association (Forum Réfugiés-Cosi) submitted proposals to representatives and senate members to make certain amendments to the text, after analyzing the bill, according to Laurent Delbos, attorney and head of advocacy at the association.

The Association also objects to the use of video conferencing for some asylum interviews, considering it cannot guarantee confidentiality.

Delbos hopes that “the message shared in the demonstrations reaches the Constitutional Council, and that it mainly emphasizes the French citizens’ commitment to the principles of the French Republic and their refusal to abandon basic rights, while advocating to keep France a welcoming country – one of hospitality and solidarity.”

If the law is granted partial approval by the Constitutional Council on January 25, the most likely scenario involves the President issuing the text in its approved version and publishing it in France’s official gazette. Measures can start being implemented the next day.

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