Friday, September 28, 2007

Testimony on Immigration

Jean Quatremer has posted an interesting letter from a couple of scientific researchers, a French man married to a Ukrainian woman, detailing the difficulties they encountered with the French administration, difficulties so persistent and debilitating that ultimately they chose to move to the United States, which they say welcomed them far more readily. This is particularly interesting because this couple clearly represents l'immigration choisie that Sarkozy wants to substitute for the current system. In this case the immigrant met all the criteria considered desirable: highly educated, possessed an economically useful skill, knowledge of language, married to a Frenchman.

To be sure, the anecdotal evidence given here is hardly comprehensive and perhaps quite atypical. Nevertheless, it does suggest that a mere change in the law or administrative regulations will not be enough to resolve problems faced by immigrants at deeper levels of the bureaucracy.

I do want to take issue with one line inserted by the commentator, Jean Quatremer, Libé's EU correspondent:

je ne parle même pas des tests ADN qui montrent à quel point la société hexagonale est travaillée par l'idéologie d'extrême droite

This seems to me excessive and ill-judged. As I've said before, the proposed DNA tests were to be voluntary and administered at the request of a family member attempting to prove kinship for the purpose of obtaining a family visa to enter France. One might choose to oppose such tests in any case on a variety of grounds, but it seems absurd to me to make the equation "DNA testing = extreme-right ideology." In what sense? Does Quatremer imply that the measure is racist? Presumably the racial affinity of the applicant is already apparent to the examiner; the relationship established by the DNA test is of a far more intimate kind. It proves that within races there are highly distinct individuals and among individuals a range of genetic variation. If anything, this is the opposite of the ideology of the extreme right. Quatremer seems to be saying that any attempt to link biology to citizenship is a step toward fascism. This is an ill-considered view, a knee-jerk reaction.

LATE ADDENDUM: On opposition by Catholics in the UMP and Charles Pasqua, see here.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

First, thank you for your lucid comment about the DNA testing. While I find that some of your posts feature knee-jerk reactions, I'm pretty astounded by those who are calling voluntary DNA testing racist.

But to look at the overall situation. France has never, as far as I know, been friendly to immigrants. This is not something that just happened since Sarkozy got elected, or since Chirac. I've been living in France since 1984, and, during the first years, I, too, went through the usual red tape to get papers. This person seems to think that the mere fact you need to get a carte de séjour is a problem; I don't see why that is the case.

What is more serious, though, is the way you get treated by civil servants. I recall, back in 1985, geting my first carte de séjour in Nanterre, when I witnessed this. At least there was equality: I, a white American with dual Irish citizenship, was treated more or less the same as the Arabs and Africans. It was general contempt for anyone.

When I got married in 1986, I recall the mayor asking if I was planning to stay in France - hint, hint, it sounded like, we don't want you here.

Over time, it has gotten better, in part because Europeans now have more or less the same rights as French people. In fact, I renewed my carte de séjour earlier this year, and was granted a permantent one. But ten years ago, during the previous renewal, I still had to go at least twice to the prefecture and present all kinds of papers.

In any case, this person says he and his wife left France because his wife couldn't "integrate". I'm not sure that's a scathing comment about France or the French. The fact that she couldn't get a job is perhaps because no one needed her, in spite of her qualifications. It's hard to separate the truth from that person's poltically motivated letter.

Anonymous said...

What's striking about discussion of this proposal is that the French public and even the media seem confused on this point. The first I heard of it was on the radio (France-Info), and it was made clear, though not emphasized, that the tests were to be voluntary, and represented a way of dispensing with supporting documents that are hard to produce and in many cases fraudulent. But subsequent reports and newspaper articles--and especially, of course, the comments of critics--have not mentioned the voluntary aspect of the proposal, and often leapt immediately to the conclusion that the proposal was tantamount to assuming that that all foreigners were (potential) criminals whose DNA had to be on file. Most of the French people with whom I've talked about it had the impression that the DNA testing would be obligatory.

On the other hand, there is always the possibility that people who choose not to go that route (for various reasons, including the fear the the tests would prove adultery, etc.) would simply no longer have a chance of being admitted, so that an apparently voluntary option becomes obligatory if you want your papers. It is even possible that refusing to take the DNA taste would be seen as proof that one has something to hide, that the documents one has produced are in fact bogus, etc.

So it seems to me to remain a problematic proposal, even though if fairly applied it should work to the advantage of bona fide applicants for French citizenship, residency permits, and other benefits.

Anonymous said...

The problem with present French immigration laws is that they have been tailored to the problems posed by North Africa and black Africa immigration.

Other countries, like Ukraine in your example, suffer the collateral damage..

Immigration choisie, by making a clear difference betweem welcomed and un-welcomed immigration, should help in this respect.

( anonymous n° 2..)

Unknown said...

Steve,
Perhaps one reason why the amendment was so poorly understood was that it was not part of the government's original bill. Sarkozy, like him or not, is good at explaining the measures he embraces. Since this wasn't part of his agenda, the "communications" side wasn't worked out. I understand that the DNA test provision may come up for another vote, after having been rejected by the Senate. It will be interesting to see if Sarko puts his weight behind it. I suspect he won't.

Anonymous 1 & 2: If you choose "other" rather than anonymous as your pseudo, you can call yourself anything you want. Your real identity remains protected, but at least you differentiate yourself from the other Anonymi and establish a "commenter identity," which I think makes for a better dialogue, if I have some sense of continuity of comments across messages. As to the substance of the matter, the degree of welcome that France has shown to foreigners has varied with time and nationality. Some useful references on the subject are the work of Patrick Weil and Gérard Noiriel, Tyler Stovall (on blacks), Emmanuelle Saada, Mary Lewis, Jonathan Laurence, Dominique Schnapper, Cathérine Grémion, Jocelyne Césari, and many, many others.

Anonymous said...

The comment by Quatremer is certainly excessive, but mostly it is too vague. The DNA testing ammendment poses indeed very serious challenges for French law (especially family law and loi "bioéthique")and philosophy. One major issue is whether to consider paternity as a social link or a biological link (testing the father or the mother is not the same). For an excellent synthesis of what is at stake behind this hopefully rejected proposal : http://www.senat.fr/rap/l06-470/l06-4708.html#toc50

Unknown said...

Eloi,
Thanks for your comment. I had raised the issues you raise in an earlier post and pointed to the same Senate debate. And Steve's objection is also pertinent, that refusal to take a "voluntary" test may in practice come to constitute de facto grounds for refusal. I think that these issues call for careful consideration. But note that 11 other EU countries permit voluntary DNA testing for this purpose. I think the proper thing to do would be to defer action on the amendment to allow time to study the experience of these other countries. I have read a bit about Britain's experience, which is mixed. There have been perverse effects in some cases, happy outcomes in others. I do not think that there is a perfect solution here. My point is only that DNA testing should not be ruled out a prior as somehow an "evil" measure associated in some unspecified way with xenophobia, fascism, racism, and genocide. It is the "know-nothing" aspect of the rejectionists that gets my hackles up, not the suggestion that the measure requires careful thought.