FECL 35 (June 1995):

FEAR, SUSPICION AND DENUNCIATION: THE EFFECTS OF RECENT YEARS' ANTI-IMMIGRATION POLICIES

A drastic anti-immigration law package introduced two years ago, has deeply marked French society. Ever since, non-white foreigners have been living in a climate marked by constant fear of administrative and police harassment, denunciation, discrimination and racist violence. Families, including French citizens, are brutally separated by deportation measures and ever more immigrants are forced underground.

The anti-immigration package introduced in 1993 affects various categories of foreigners and their French relatives:

 

"Just in time" deportations of teenagers

One law abolished the former automatic right for foreign parents to obtain French citizenship for their children born in France. Since 1993, the children concerned have to apply for citizenship themselves, at the age of 16. However, if their parents lose their residence permit before this date, the entire family is no longer protected from deportation. The consequence is that teenagers who have gone to French schools all their lives are expelled from France "just in time" - before their 16th birthday.

 

"Mixed" couples

Irregular foreigners no longer can apply for a residence permit on the grounds of marriage with a French national. The foreign spouse must return in his/her country of origin and apply there for a residence permit in France. Even those foreign spouses who are able to comply with this rule are now hesitating to do so and prefer to live semi-clandestinely, since it has become known that French authorities tend to reject even applications that comply with the new requirements.

 

Family reunion

The right to family reunion has been sharply restricted through a decree requiring a rigorous check of the applicants' income and housing conditions. As a result, in the Paris region the success rate of applications dropped from 85 per cent before the new law to 25 per cent in 1994, and it is now all but impossible for foreigners with legal minimum wages to obtain reunion with their families. Many immigrants try to stay in France illegally in order to live with their families. Legislation has provided for this too by making "assisting in illegal stay" a punishable act. The French wife of a Moroccan man was recently prosecuted on the grounds that she had "hidden" her husband from the police.

 

Right of asylum

The "Pasqua law", combined with the implementation of the Schengen Agreement, has meant that France no longer examines asylum applications presented by foreigners suspected of having entered the country via one of the Schengen member states. Applications considered as "manifestly unfounded" by the Interior Ministry are also not examined.

 

Visas

Since the introduction of anti-immigration measures in 1993, there has been a massive fall in the number of visas issued. Only 100,000 visas were granted to Algerian nationals in 1994, against 800,000 in 1989. Similar drops can be observed with regard to other North African countries.

The restrictive visa practice has tragic consequences for the large number of people (many of whom are French citizens) in France with family members and friends in conflict-torn Algeria.

 

Undocumented parents of French children

Foreign parents of children with French citizenship are protected by law against deportation. Yet, since 1993, foreign parents are denied residence permits if they are "irregularly" staying in France at the moment of their application. Thus, many foreign parents of French children have been denied a residence permit on the grounds that their visa or their stay permit had expired.

The regulation, introduced by former Interior Minister Pasqua, has led to absurd situations, with foreign parents actually living in France, because they may not be deported, but doomed to a permanent clandestine life, because they have no right to a residence permit.

However, in May, the then Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, issued a circular enabling "irregular foreigners" with French children to have their situation legalised. The circular requires Prefects to examine each individual case and to assess the possibility of regularisation according to "certain objective elements", including, inter alia, the length of stay of the parents in France, and the genuineness of their parental ties with the French child.

Minister Pasqua pointed out that the circular did not aim to create a general amnesty but provided for an individual examination of all cases. About 700 families affected by the decree are known to French NGOs concerned with immigrants and human rights.

Mr. Pasqua's climb-down followed a number of spectacular protest actions throughout Spring. In April, six foreign parents (most of them Africans) went on hunger strike in Paris, with the support of the protestant charity CIMADE. A visit of Mrs Danielle Mitterrand highlighted their desperate situation, and just before leaving office, President Mitterrand himself called on the next president to "put to a speedy end a situation that for the sake of the image of France, may not persist".

Ironically, by issuing his circular, Charles Pasqua acknowledged the inconsistency of his own law at the moment of leaving office as an Interior Minister.

Critics, however, point out, that this single measure will change little in the generally repressive philosophy behind foreigner law and practices introduced since 1993. Indeed, the 1993 law package has crucially contributed to growing hostility towards foreigners among the general public, the police and public administration. Non-white foreigners in particular are permanently exposed to suspicion, denunciation, administrative harassment, and racist violence. "At some times, this country appeared to be living in ignorance; now it seems to have entered the era of suspicion", Philippe Bernard and Nathaniel Herzberg write in Le Monde. The authors claim that "the traditional barrier between administrative services and police has vanished", and they name examples: the post office official who informed the aliens authorities about an African, because he had shown a passport with an expired visa when making a payment at the post office; the hospital administrator who notified the police of an undocumented woman admitted to give birth; officials at the Prefectures who invite a foreigner to an interview "for the renewal of his residence permit", only to ensure his arrest by the police at the office counter.

Such denunciations by public service personnel are systematically encouraged by the Interior Ministry. Foreigners have become accustomed to be asked for their civil status papers at all occasions - when hiring a flat, enrolling children at school, or taking an exam.

They have also become the prime targets of ever more frequent "routine controls" and "security operations" by the police. Whether such checks are carried out at football matches or during road safety campaigns, they always result in the detection of some "suspect" aliens.

Thus, the number of ID checks and detention for questioning of foreigners has rapidly increased since the introduction of the Pasqua laws, with 34,500 cases in 1994 against 18,000 in 1992, in Paris alone. However, increased control has not contributed to more efficiency in carrying out deportations. Indeed, of the 34,500 persons checked, 8000 were issued deportation orders, and only 1,500 actually left the country.

The main effect of increased administrative and police control and harassment has been that more and more aliens avoid, as far as possible, any contact with the authorities; and the number of illegal immigrants has multiplied.

 

Source: Le Monde, 19.4.95, 12.5.95.