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French parliament debates bill that would make it easier to deport some migrants

Senators in France started debating a bill Monday that is intended to toughen the country’s immigration law but advocacy organizations have criticized as a threat to the rights of asylum-seekers and other migrants.

French President Emmanuel Macron(Reuters)

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the legislation “is about being firm” on immigration. The bill especially is aimed at “being tougher on foreigners who commit crimes, expelling them all,” he said, speaking Sunday night on TV channel France 2.

The government said the measure would strengthen and accelerate the process for deporting foreigners who are regarded as “a serious threat to public order.”

At the same time, Darmanin, who is considered one of the most right-wing members of President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government, said the bill acknowledges people who entered France without authorization and “want to regularize.”

The legislation includes a provision that would give legal status under certain conditions to undocumented individuals working in specific sectors with labor shortages.

“There’s a political compromise to be found. What counts is the general interest,” Darmanin said.

The Senate debate is the first step in what is likely to be a long and difficult legislative journey. The bill already was postponed several times this year due to a lack of support from a parliamentary majority.

The upper house of parliament is dominated by conservatives who are opposed to giving legal status to workers who entered France illegally, arguing the move would create a “pull effect” that encourages more migrants to come to France.

Speaking on France Inter radio, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Monday rejected the conservatives’ claim and said the provision would benefit “people who’ve been on our territory for years, who are well integrated.”

The debate on the bill also is expected to be heated next month at the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, where Macron’s centrist alliance has the most seats but doesn’t have a majority. The bill would require the votes of conservatives lawmakers to get through.

Dozens of left-wing lawmakers and human rights activists staged a demonstration Monday in front of the Senate.

Aboubakar Dembele, an activist in a group of undocumented workers, said migrants bring a lot to the French economy despite some having no legal status. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and many citizens were working remotely, “those who were going to work were people without any other solution, mostly undocumented workers. They went out and worked despite the pandemic risks,” he said.

Several non-governmental organizations have criticized the overall legislation as threatening migrants’ rights.

“The French authorities are trying again to put forward a deeply flawed set of immigration measures,” Eva Cossé, a senior Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a written statement. “Dividing families and watering down rights for asylum-seekers is not the answer to the country’s security concerns.”

The Human Rights League denounced the government’s proposed law as being based on “repressive views.”

“Migrants are dehumanized and considered as nothing more than potential labor, entitled only to precarious regularization offers,” the French association said.

Amnesty International France tweeted on X that it views the bill as “one more text that fails to adequately protect the rights of people living in exile, and may even deteriorate them.”

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