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French parliament passes a divisive immigration bill to speed up deportation of undesirable migrants

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French parliament passes a divisive immigration bill to speed up deportation of undesirable migrants

The bill, meant to strengthen France’s ability to deport foreigners considered undesirable, passed the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, with a 349-186 vote late Tuesday. It had been adopted by the Senate.

FP Staff December 20, 2023 22:55:45 IST French parliament passes a divisive immigration bill to speed up deportation of undesirable migrants

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin delivers a speech at the French National Assembly in Paris, Monday, dec. 11, 2023. A divisive migration bill that would speed up deportations reaches the lower house of French parliament.- AP

French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government faced an uproar on Wednesday following the approval of a divisive immigration bill supported by the far right. The bill, designed to enhance France’s capacity to deport foreigners deemed undesirable, received a 349-186 vote in favour in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, late Tuesday. The Senate had previously adopted the bill.

In a display of opposition to the draft legislation, Macron’s health minister resigned, while some left-leaning lawmakers within the centrist alliance chose to abstain or vote against the bill.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who championed the bill, said the government wants “greater firmness against foreign offenders.”

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“Who here can say that we must allow criminals, people on our land, who attack us, attack our professors, and who attack our police forces and who attack the youth on the cafe terraces, without reacting?” he said in a speech at the National Assembly.

He singled out the recent school attack where a teacher was stabbed to death by a suspected Islamic extremist from the Ingushetia region in Russia’s Caucasus Mountains.

Darmanin said the bill also would allow 7,000 to 10,000 undocumented migrant workers a year to obtain residency permits and fill jobs in sectors that have difficulty hiring, like the food industry and agricultural sector.

The text still needs to be officially enacted into law.

The Constitutional Council needs to make sure the bill’s final version is in line with the Constitution. The body has the power to reject it in full or partially. Government members acknowledged that some provisions could still be scrapped.

The vote came after parliament members from Macron’s centrist majority and the conservative party The Republicans found a compromise to allow the text to make its way through the legislative process.

Macron’s alliance lost its majority in legislative elections last year, forcing him into political maneuvering.

The conservatives, who pushed for a hard-line approach, said the compromise text features provisions to reduce the number of migrants coming to France, notably by limiting foreigners’ access to social benefits.

Many saw the negotiations as a sign of a shift to the right by Macron’s government.

Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau, who previously worked for a Socialist government before rejoining Macron’s camp, resigned Wednesday to show opposition to the bill.

Government spokesman Oliver Veran acknowledged that changes were made to allow the compromise with The Republicans. “There are things in this law that we don’t like, that part of the French population doesn’t like, that I don’t like, but that doesn’t dishonor us,” he said.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally group at the National Assembly, described it as an ”ideological victory” for her party.

Hard-left lawmaker Mathilde Panot, president of France Unbowed group at the National Assembly, urged Macron not to turn the bill into a law, calling the text a “full-scale attack on fundamental rights.”

Advocacy organizations have criticized the bill as a threat to the rights of migrants.

Migrants’ rights group The Cimade called it “the most repressive and abusive immigration bill drawn up in the last 40 years” in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

The debate in France comes as European Union leaders and top officials on Wednesday hailed a major breakthrough in talks on new rules to control migration. Critics said the reforms will weaken the rights of asylum-seekers and encourage more morally dubious deals with countries that people leave to get to Europe.

With inputs from AP.

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