Why the French buy Sarkozy’s immigration bill

On October 26, 2006, six kids, all under 18, all from immigrant families, boarded a crowded bus in Marseille, threw gasoline and lit a match.  A Senegalese student did not get out in time and was burned over 60% of her body. She is still in hospital. The trial opens next week. 

Cyrille, who will be 16 next month, is one.  His mother immigrated to France from Cape Verde 23 years ago.  She is unemployed and receives welfare and lives in government subsidized housing paid for by French tax-payers.  She has three children and receives generous family allotment with a bonus as a single-mother paid for by French tax-payers.  Her children get a free education and universal health care paid for by French tax-payers. 

This is one of the many high profile cases in the French press whipping up anti-immigrant sentiments.  Even though the children were born here and have French citizenship (which they must confirm at age 18), they are seen as aliens and thus referred to as immigrant youth.  Youth are the real targets in new legislation. Last year a French MP even tried to introduce a bill making it illegal to insult France or the Police in rap songs which are so popular in the immigrant community. 

This week the National Assembly approved a bill allowing the census to ask for racial and ethnic origins.  Until now, you were either French or not. It was illegal to ask details about race, religion and ethnicity. They have no way of knowing how many Blacks, Arabs, Asians, Muslims or Buddhists there are in the country.  Once the figures are obtained, the results may shock many White and Christian French. They will find a very large non-White, non-Christian, unassimilated angry and hateful underclass of French citizens. 

The government says it needs the data to introduce Affirmative Action or what is called here Positive Discrimination measures.  Amnesty International says this will just “stigmatize the foreigner”. The daily Libération asks whether “the government is trying to establish statistics on delinquency according to ethnic origin?  

Since the November 2005 riots in the country by youth predominantly from immigrant families but born in France, there has been a real push to reinforce national identity, traditions and integration (Paris has given up on the notion of assimilating immigrants).  The point being if you are in France you adapt or as Nicolas Sarkozy said during his campaign “if you don’t love France, you don’t have to stay.” 

The problem is they are here to stay.  The immigrant youth believe they deserve more.  They are angry and aggressive.  So France must deal with this tinder box while preventing it from growing.   

President Sarkozy this week said he sees the need “to set up quotas to select the good grain from the shaft, identify good immigrants or refugees, those who deserve to come to France and those who do not deserve it. 

This is in line with his desire to choose the immigrants along criteria which correspond to France’s needs and the immigrant’s capacity to fit in.  Knowing French is one criterion. Having a trade in need is another. Although it is unsaid, being White and Christian is a plus.  Already in 1977, President Valerie Giscard d’Estaing said he favored Portuguese immigrants over North Africans because they are culturally, ethnically and religiously closer to the French.  It was already too late. 

Thirty years later Giscard’s wish is becoming law.  Parliament decided this week to make it much tougher for immigrants to bring their families into France where they would be a drain on the welfare state.  MPs even authorized DNA tests (at the cost of the potential immigrant) to make sure they are indeed directly related to the parent in France.  The immigrant must also show he earns enough to support the family and that his lodging is big enough. 

Act Up protests this aspect of the law on « controlling immigration » saying that by imposing revenue conditions to bring in family members you automatically “exclude the most vulnerable people, such as the ill and the low income”.  

Last year over 92 000 people came to France to join their families which means increased welfare expenses and only 11 000 came to work according to French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux. 

Add to this news stories about fraud which is estimated at from 30 to 40 billion euros a year.  Although much of it is white-collar and business fraud, it is lower income brackets, especially immigrants who get much of the media attention. What the French see is fraud on the national health system including bringing in foreigners who use the identity of someone in France for hospitalization and treatment, networks that cheat on unemployment with fake pay slips, the same for the RMI, a monthly welfare payment for those without unemployment compensation, mothers who declare non-existant children or declare their children in several areas to receive unwarrented family alotment payments and other stories of violence and theft and you have a good mix to set two Frances one against the other.  

The risks that this confrontation could escalate are very real. Already ethnic French have been increasingly and openly expressing anti-foreign sentiment in racist terms, even violently. The rise in Islamic fundamentalism in France among the youth from the immigration is also a sign that there is what can only be called a clash of cultures.