Senators in France opened debate on Monday on an immigration bill intended to strengthen the country’s ability to expel foreigners considered undesirable. Advocacy organizations criticized the measure as a threat to the rights of asylum-seekers and other migrants.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin in opening remarks said French citizens are looking to authorities for decisions in a Europe “surrounded by unstable lands.” He asserted that irregular immigration and asylum demands in Europe had increased by more than 60% since the start of the year.
“To speak of immigration is to speak of our sovereignty … those we want to welcome, those we want to separate from,” Darmanin said.
The government said the measure would strengthen and accelerate the process for deporting foreigners who are regarded as “a serious threat to public order.”
At the same time, Darmanin, who is considered one of the most right-wing members of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government, said the bill acknowledges people who entered France without authorization and “want to regularize.”
The most debated part of the legislation would give temporary legal status under certain conditions to undocumented individuals working in specific sectors with labor shortages.
Three motions from leftist parties to reject the bill were voted down.
The Senate debate is the first step in what likely will be a long and difficult legislative journey. The bill was postponed several times this year due to lack of support from a parliamentary majority.
The upper house of parliament is dominated by conservatives who are opposed to giving legal status for workers who entered France illegally, arguing the move would create a “pull effect” that encourages more migrants to come.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, speaking Monday on France Inter radio, rejected the conservatives’ claim and said the provision would benefit “people who’ve been on our territory for years, who are well integrated.”
The debate is expected to be heated next month in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, where Macron’s centrist alliance lacks a majority. The bill would require the votes of conservative lawmakers to pass.
Dozens of left-wing lawmakers and human rights activists staged a demonstration Monday in front of the Senate.
Aboubakar Dembele, an activist in a group of undocumented workers, said migrants bring a lot to the French economy despite some having no legal status.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began and many citizens were working remotely, “those who were going to work were people without any other solution, mostly undocumented workers. They went out and worked despite the pandemic risks,” he said.
Several non-governmental organizations have criticized the overall legislation as threatening migrants’ rights.
“French authorities are trying again to put forward a deeply flawed set of immigration measures,” Eva Cossé, a senior Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Dividing families and watering down rights for asylum seekers is not the answer to the country’s security concerns.”
The Human Rights League denounced the government’s proposed law as being based on “repressive views.”
“Migrants are dehumanized and considered as nothing more than potential labor, entitled only to precarious regularization offers,” the French association said.
Amnesty International France posted on X, formerly Twitter, that it views the bill as “one more text that fails to adequately protect the rights of people living in exile, and may even deteriorate them.”
Darmanin in an X post on Monday said that “What we seek is to be able to say yes or no to someone (seeking papers), and quickly.” He added that someone risking expulsion has a dozen ways to contest it, but he wants to “divide by three” those legal avenues.
Source : AP News