Immigration Policy in France: a tension between human rights and political ambition?
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The evolution of French immigration law begins with the insertion of the link between nationality and citizenship in French law in 1889 (Kiwan, 99). Until the 1970s, policy remained largely unchanged. When the French administration suspended familial immigration in 1974, immigration policy began to enter the psyche of the French people. The rise of the National Front in the 1980s and its resurgence in the 2002 presidential election politicized immigration—creating and maintaining its importance as a political tool. In roughly the same period, increasing European integration let to Europe’s supranational institutions gaining new policy-making abilities, including the right to issue directives concerning immigration policy in member-states. Immigration policy was no longer a strictly national prerogative. Finally, in the first decade of the new millennium, more restrictive approaches to immigration policy were announced. Many of these emanated from one key political figure: Nicolas Sarkozy. During his tenure as Minister of the Interior from 2002 to 2004 and 2005 to 2007, Sarkozy proposed a break with past immigration policy: France would create ‘immigration choisie’ to fight what had become the norm, ‘immigration subie.’ Sarkozy passed legislation to reduce the number of unwanted immigrants entering France and increased the target number of illegal aliens expelled from France each year. Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign was again marked by the rhetoric of breaking with the past: a ‘rupture’ with the stagnation that has so often plagued the French government during the Fifth Republic. Mixed with his offer of a new perspective, Sarkozy worked to attract votes from the far right by adopting a strong stance against immigration, an unprecedented electoral strategy. As Sarkozy’s initial electoral support waned, his administration promulgated an immigration and integration law, known as the Besson Law of June 16, 2011. After a comprehensive analysis of France’s past treatment of immigration in the first half of this study, in the second half, I undertake a detailed examination of the Besson Law. I will show how French immigration policy—under the guise of adherence to European directives—has restricted immigration rights in ways that stray from France’s humanitarian past.
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