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Stranger in Paris
Illegal immigrants are increasingly denied even the most fundamental rights
Pierre Joo (pierre_joo)     Print Article 
  Published 2007-03-27 07:19 (KST)   
The French presidential election campaign has reached its final stages.
©2007 Pierre Joo
A few years ago I lost my French national identity card along with my wallet which I had left at a party. I never bothered to get another as I thought that I could make do with my driver's license and passport. My tendency for thoughtlessness would normally dictate that I leave my passport at home and only carry my driver's license around, but recently I started carrying my passport with me everywhere, because for the first time in my life, I am concerned that I may have to justify my legal presence on French soil at any moment.

Yet I was born in France and have always lived here; my friends pretend I have a thick Parisian accent when I speak; and I have the same tendency for arrogance as well as the love of wine and cheese as any other French national. But lately, when confronted by random police controls, I am regarded as what my Asian appearance increasingly points to in the minds of policemen: a potential illegal immigrant.

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Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the French right-leaning UMP party, and one of the top contenders for France's top job, is the main advocate and architect of France's hard-line anti-immigration policy. Throughout his two mandates as interior minister between 2002 and 2007, Sarkozy intensified the eviction of illegal immigrants. Such a policy, Sarkozy has long believed, will win back voters attracted to the far-right political agenda promoted by extremist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Winning them back is all the more crucial for Sarkozy because, according to polls, an increasing number of center-right electors are looking towards the center-right UDF party leader Francois Bayrou, who has managed to emerge as a serious challenger at the center of the political spectrum.

There is nothing wrong with a comprehensive crackdown on illegal immigrants. Any country has a legitimate right to control its flow of immigrants, even more so when conditions for their integration are not met. Nevertheless, such a crackdown should have limits set by the fundamental rights any human being is entitled to, no matter the legality of their presence in a country. With the French presidential election only one month ahead, two troubling cases hint that those limits are being taken lightly or ignored.

In January 2007, the Paris police headquarters confirmed that it had arrested 21 illegal immigrants, during what it referred to as a "routine operation." Routine? This term seems awfully out of place given the tactics used by the police: waiting for hungry suspected illegal immigrants at the exact time and place where the French NGO "Restos du Coeur" were distributing 400 free meals to the poor. Luring prey with food may be routine when hunting or fishing; such a method is simply revolting when it comes to human beings.

When pressured by their superiors to show tangible results on curbing illegal immigration, it seems that some policemen's ingenuity, imagination and determination overtake their sense of humanism. On March 22, a Chinese grandfather without a residency permit was arrested next to a Paris kindergarten, where he had come to pick up his two grandchildren. Witnesses report that given the unjustified use of brutality to arrest a harmless elderly man in the view of young children, many parents and passers-by allegedly intervened to oppose the arrest.

Rising tension supposedly caused policemen to use tear gas and bludgeons to proceed with the arrest. The following day, the school's principal was taken into custody for her particularly incensed attitude: she allegedly hit a police car's window with her hand and verbally challenged a police officer: she was detained for 7 hours. No violence is justified, but surely, one can easily understand the principal's anger at witnessing her pupils and their parents being tear gassed. In comparison, the policemen's brutal use of force seems totally unjustified.

Nicolas Sarkozy stepped down from his interior minister position on March 26 to dedicate himself entirely to the presidential campaign. Should he be elected, he has vowed to create a new ministry in charge of immigration and national identity: a statement that has sparked much controversy, since the association of these two subjects echoes back to the dark era of France's Second World War Vichy regime that actively contributed to the anti-Semitic agenda of the Nazi regime.

The heavily guarded UMP headquarters of Nicholas Sarkozy encourages people to "imagine tomorrow's France."
©2007 unknown
Faced with critics that such a statement is a dangerous political move to appeal to far-right voters, Sarkozy argues that no one should be afraid of the concept of national identity. On March 24, during a visit to the French West Indies, he insisted that "France is not a race, nor an ethnic tribe." One should thus assume that what Sarkozy defines as national identity is not a matter of race, but rather of shared values, inherited from France's long history, and which lead to France's much cherished value of fraternity, which makes it possible to advocate for he right for food or education for all, regardless of the legality of their presence on French soil.

In that case, I should rest assured that under a Sarkozy presidency, I would be safe, and some policemen would be in deep trouble.

- A Stranger in Paris by Pierre Joo (read by Claire George) 

©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Pierre Joo

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