French Lawmakers Mull Migration Law Changes, Amid Row Over Comments Linking Migrants and Crime

Fayçal Benhassain | December 13, 2022 | 5:48pm EST
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French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin delivers a speech on immigration policy at the National Assembly in Paris last week. (Photo by Julien De Rosa / AFP via Getty Images)
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin delivers a speech on immigration policy at the National Assembly in Paris last week. (Photo by Julien De Rosa / AFP via Getty Images)

Paris ( – French politicians are grappling again with immigration law change proposals, amid controversy over comments by French President Emmanuel Macron and a senior cabinet minister linking migrants and crime.

A bill supported by Macron and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is being discussed by the Senate this week, after the House considered it last week.

Aimed among other things at easing conditions for migrants from war torn countries in Africa and the Middle East to move to France, the measure faces criticism from opposition parties, as well as from non-governmental organizations involved in migration.

Darmanin came under fire after he told lawmakers last month that “most of the criminal acts, misdemeanors and more serious crimes, are carried out some of the foreigners who reside in our large cities.”

Green lawmaker Aurélien Taché acknowledged a high percentage of those sentenced for crimes were foreigners, but told the house that the vast majority of offenses were related to migrants’ irregular status, such as illegal employment.

Laurent Jacobelli, a lawmaker with the far-right National Rally, agreed that there was a link between immigration and insecurity.

“It has been obvious to the French and to the National Rally for a long time,” he said, adding that his party is in favor of expelling all illegal immigrants immediately.

Jacobelli added that his party was in favor of a referendum on adding a provision to the constitution “that would oblige a foreigner to respect our laws, under penalty of expulsion.”

Asked during an interview with the daily Le Parisien about Darmanin’s comment linking migrants and crime, Macron rejected any “generalization” and would “never make a link between immigration and insecurity.”

But then Macron appeared to do just that, saying that, in Paris, “we have a high concentration of illegal immigration” and that “at least half of the acts of delinquency are the work of foreigners.”

In a recent letter to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, 26 human rights groups including Amnesty International said they opposed “an approach based on stigmatization and shortcuts equating immigration and delinquency.”

Macron’s proposals aim to help the integration of migrants who live legally in France, while taking a firmer line on expelling those in the country illegally.

The law must “facilitate [irregular] migrants’ return to their countries and must fight clandestine networks,” he told Le Parisien, referring to people smuggling gangs.

Borne told Le Figaro that the law must make it possible both to “expel more effectively and better integrate those who must remain on our territory.”

One controversial article of the text proposed the granting of  residence permits to migrants working in sectors that badly need staff.

Justifying the need for the change, Macron told BFM TV channel early this month that “France has always been a land of immigration,” and made references to Italian, Spanish and North African immigration that boosted the agricultural sector, and a wave of Polish migrants miners in the 1960s and 70s.

Darmanin told lawmakers, “Today, let’s be clear, do we sincerely think that catering, agricultural, and many other sectors operate without immigration? We must have the honesty to say it – the answer is no.”

But Republican lawmaker Pierre-Henri Dumont expressed concern that some migrants would benefit from residence permits without taking up the jobs offered to them.

In the end, the government decided to remove the residence permit provision from the bill, and did so during the debate in the House.

Marine Le Pen of the National Rally told reporters she was not optimistic about the new law.

“The government will talk to us again about balancing firmness and humanity,” she said. “We’ve heard that for decades.”

“Nothing will change,” Le Pen predicted. “Immigration in our country is completely out of control.”

The bill will go to the Council of State in the coming weeks, and then be considered again by the House and Senate next spring before final votes are held.

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