By Alarm Phone

The day after the International Day for the Rights of Migrants, the French executive adopted one of its most racist and violent texts against foreigners. This text, despite the ongoing strong mobilization of civil society, is an unprecedented attack on the rights of foreigners. Adopted thanks to the votes of the extreme right, it is a whole ideology of rejection and stigmatization of racialized people that has emerged victorious.

Following a Kafkaesque process of political negotiation, the Senate and Assembly have now formally backed one of the harshest and most repressive texts in 70 years. While part of the law may well be subject to partial censure by the Constitutional Council, the measures call into question a number of principles, such as the right to legal status, introduce national preference into the welfare system, and re-establish the offense of illegal residence.

This text was written against a backdrop of unabashed racism at the very highest levels of government, in the media, and through the increasing actions of fascist groups throughout France. As ever, the migration issue has also been instrumentalized by a government which, for several years now, has been facing a real crisis of legitimacy linked to the injustices and inequalities that its reforms continue to accentuate. Yet this law is part of the same social violence that Emmanuel Macron and his supporters are waging against the working classes.   

To get this text adopted, the relative majority of the presidential party chose to ally itself with the right and extreme right. To achieve this, the initial text, which already offered little protection, was stripped by the Senate Law Commission of all the utilitarian measures presented as tools to “facilitate integration” (for example, the issuing of new residence permits for jobs in short supply, or compliance with European law by allowing asylum seekers of certain nationalities to work after six months from the date of their asylum application).  

By exploiting current events, such as the murder in October 2023 of a teacher in Arras by a person of “foreign origin,” the French authorities have consistently justified the continued tightening of this text and the acceleration of the legislative timetable, leading to its adoption in a matter of weeks and by expeditious procedures on December 19, 2023.

Demonstration in Paris against the adoption of the law. 14 November 2023. Credit: Françoise Chambeu

Generally speaking, the new Migration Act reinforces the criminalization of illegal residence, restricts access to the right to asylum and to the various residence permits, and authorizes serious infringements of the most fundamental rights of foreign nationals. To cite just a few examples:

  • Making access to social benefits conditional for foreign nationals from non-EU countries, in the name of the principle of “national preference”.
  • Introduction of quotas set by Parliament to cap (for the next three years) the number of foreign nationals admitted to the country.
  • Weakening of the right to asylum, with the introduction of the possibility of placing asylum seekers in detention while their application is being examined, tightening of conditions of access to the right to family reunification, and restriction of access to material reception conditions.
  • Restriction of conditions for obtaining residence permits for health reasons and student residence permits.
  • Tougher access to nationality and end of automatic right of citizenship for people born in France
  • Expansion of the categories of people who can be deported (parents of French children, spouses of French nationals, seriously ill people, etc.) and systematization of deportations.

While we were stunned by the violence of the bill’s adoption, the mobilization of civil society never wavered! Since the bill was announced in autumn 2022, the undocumented migrants movement has mobilized around the Solidarity March. Demonstrations, rallies in front of the National Assembly and other public institutions, strikes, information and mobilization actions in front of homes and in neighborhoods, as well as festive events, have all brought people together to denounce the violence and racism of this law.

As soon as it was announced that the text had been adopted by the Assembly on December 19, spontaneous demonstrations took place all over France. This was followed by emergency meetings between movements, associations, and trade unions to write and circulate communiqués, forums, and petitions urging the government not to promulgate the law. A unified text calling for a national mobilization on January 14 was drafted at the initiative of seven “sans papiers” collectives in the region of Paris and signed by several hundreds of organizations. Unions like the CGT are calling for civil disobedience, and some towns and 32 departments have already announced that they will not apply the measures in this despicable text. Movements by high school and university students have blocked several teaching and learning sites. Last but not least, there has been a mobilization within the public services (notably in the health, culture, national and higher education sectors) calling for the law not to be applied, as demonstrated by the call from the “Our Public Services” collective. The movement to reject this law broadened in the wake of its adoption, with new alliances being explored and strengthened between anti-racist, social, feminist, and anti-colonial struggles (for example, with the Palestine solidarity movement).

The fight goes on!

Demonstration in Paris against the adoption of the law. 14 November 2023. Credit: Marche des Solidarités

ECHOES Issue 10, January 2024 – English