Thousands of protesters march against France's immigration bill

Demonstrators decry measures that tighten immigration rules and increase deportations

Migration France Protest against an immigration law outside the Constitutional Council, Jan. 25, 2024 in Paris | AP

Tens of thousands of people marched in cities across France to protest against President Emmanuel Macron's immigration legislation. The bill, which was passed by the National Assembly last month, has faced significant opposition and has been a subject of controversy. The protests were organised by a coalition of groups from various sectors, including the arts, unions, and human rights organisations.

The protesters expressed concerns about the perceived discriminatory nature of the bill and its potential violation of human rights. Critics argue that the legislation enables a preference for the French population, as opposed to foreigners, which they believe goes against the principles of equality and human rights. The bill includes measures that restrict family reunifications and access to social welfare for immigrants, which has also been a cause for opposition.

The new immigration bill represents a significant hardening of immigration rules in France. It allows for the deportation of foreigners with criminal convictions, regardless of their length of stay or age of arrival in the country. Even individuals who arrived in France before the age of 13 or have lived in the country for over 20 years could face expulsion if they receive substantial jail terms and are considered a "grave threat to public order".  The bill also requires applicants seeking to join their spouses in France to demonstrate knowledge of the French language, which many consider an additional barrier to family reunification. Critics argue that the law fails to provide a clear pathway to legal status for undocumented migrants, leaving them in a state of uncertainty and vulnerability.

The interior ministry reports a 10.7% increase in the number of foreign offenders expelled in 2023 compared to the previous year, although still below pre-pandemic levels. Asylum applications rose by 8.6% in 2023 but at a slower rate than the previous year.

The controversial immigration bill came before the Constitutional Council on Thursday.  The council, which reviews laws to ensure their conformity to the Constitution, struck down many measures that had been added to the bill under right-wing pressure. In their Thursday ruling, the nine members of the highest constitutional authority dismissed 32 out of 86 articles adopted by Parliament on December 19, 2023 over procedural concerns. They partially or wholly rejected three articles as being substantively anticonstitutional.The council's decision to reject certain added measures has been seen by critics as based on technicalities rather than their substance While government figures have hailed the ruling as a victory, emphasising that the original measures proposed by the government remained intact, critics argue that the council's decision does not address the fundamental concerns raised by the protesters.

The timing of the protests, just months before the European Parliament elections in June, underscores the political significance of the issue. With the far right gaining popularity, President Macron's centrist Renaissance party is facing a strong challenge and is reliant on external support to pass legislation due to its lack of a majority in the National Assembly. The immigration bill has become a contentious issue in the political landscape of France, with different parties and groups expressing their positions and concerns.

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