French Government Revives Assimilation Policy
By Sylvia Zappi
October 1, 2003
The French government has unveiled a new action plan for integrating immigrants that reasserts a previously abandoned assimilationist policy.
The government has decided to require the estimated 100,000 legal immigrants arriving in France each year to sign an "integration contract" upon arrival if they wish to obtain a residence card.
By signing the contract, immigrants agree to undergo language training and instruction on the "values of French society." The certificate awarded upon successful completion of these classes entitles the immigrant to a 10-year residence permit. If the immigrant fails to earn the certificate, he or she will receive only a one-year residence permit.
"France is a republic with rules that are the foundation of our national community," said Social Affairs Minister François Fillon in a press conference held earlier this year. Fillon's comments confirmed the unambiguous spirit of the new measures; chiefly, that residency in France is to be earned.
By spreading these "values" among foreigners living on French soil, Fillon said, the government wants to combat the threat of dissolution into culturally distinct communities that would threaten France's national identity.
In the 1960s and 1970s, France's policy toward immigrants was geared towards assimilating them into French society, where they were expected to adhere to traditional values and cultural norms. This policy was abandoned when it became clear that most immigrants were refusing to either return home or adopt the required values.
France pursued an "integrationist" policy from the mid-1980s onward, devoting government resources to organizations that encouraged immigrants to abide by the law but retain their distinctive cultures and traditions. Starting around 2000, however, right-wing political leaders began to tap public perceptions that immigrants were responsible for increased crime. As their efforts helped shift the French debate to the right, the idea of "assimilation"—explicit pressure on immigrants to adopt quintessentially French behavior and traditions—was revived.
In order to finance the language training and values instruction associated with the new assimilationist policy, the government has decided to sharply cut government funding for many associations responsible for the integration of immigrants—especially those that help immigrants express their own culture. Several hundred of these organizations are expected to disappear between now and the end of the year. Funds will instead be channeled to organizations that promote traditional French values and behavior.
These changes in government policy come under the umbrella of a new law submitted by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy that amends significant aspects of the legislation on aliens. The primary objective of the reform is to limit the ability of foreigners outside the European Community to enter France, particularly those whose native countries have traditionally been a key source of immigration (North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and China). The new law has already been passed by France's national assembly and will soon be discussed for two days in the Senate.
The secondary purpose of the law bears directly on integration by extending the time required for aliens who have a temporary permit to obtain a long-term residence card. In addition, in order to obtain the card, immigrants must provide proof of their "integration into French society."
In another measure, changes have also been made to family reunification, a mechanism by which foreigners can bring their spouse and children to France. These family members will be able to obtain a residence card only after their relative has been in France for five years, and on the condition that his or her integration has been "satisfactory."
Finally, the law is designed to deter "mixed" marriages by giving mayors, who conduct marriage ceremonies, the right to ask foreigners for their papers, check the legality of their residence and, in the absence of a residence card, refer the matter to the courts and halt the marriage. The same measure will be applied to "contrived paternity." A foreign male who claims to be the parent of a French child in order to obtain a residence card will have to prove that he is exercising parental authority and providing for the child's needs. In the past, only one of these two conditions had to be met.
In the same vein, housing certificates that visiting foreigners need to obtain a residence permit will be strictly controlled by mayors, who will be able to deny them in the event of "suspected fraud" or inadequate housing conditions. Town councilors are also authorized by the law to establish files on those who apply for housing certificates, in order to combat repeated or fraudulent applications.
The action plan and the new law have drawn criticism from immigrant advocates, including the nonprofit League for Human Rights, which has denounced the government policy as one that "turns foreigners into undesirables by making life precarious for those who are called upon to remain in France."
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