French President Emmanuel Macron’s government presented a new immigration bill on February 22. The bill faces criticism from human rights groups and may prove divisive when put to debate in Parliament in April.
The legislation would criminalize illegal border crossing, with fines of €3,750 ($4,580) or a one-year jail term. It would also double the time a person without documentation can be detained for, from 45 days to 90 days, and reduce the maximum consideration period for an asylum application to six months.
Supporters of the bill, including Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, insist that the law is “balanced and completely aligned with European procedures.” It faces resistance, however—particularly from human rights agencies and organizations—for being harsh and hastily written. Workers at France’s refugee protection office, Ofpra, called the law “an unequivocal departure from France’s tradition of asylum” and went on strike in protest.
“It’s a law that will mean a very sharp setback for human rights,” said Jean-Claude Mas of Cimade, a leading French refugee organization. “Above all, it is aimed at greater control of, and expulsion of, humans.” Cimade asked for the bill to be withdrawn, saying, “We’re not even in favor of fighting for changes to the bill because the philosophy behind it is just too repressive.”
According to political experts, the bill likely intends to head-off a political challenge from the far right, as the National Front, the party of presidential runner-up Marine Le Pen, is still very much a force in French politics. France received a record-setting 100,000 asylum applications in 2017, while an opinion poll earlier this month showed that 63 percent of French voters believe there are too many immigrants in France. As Macron has a large parliamentary majority, the bill is likely to pass.
The law does, however, face resistance even within Macron’s own party, the centrist Republic on the Move (LREM). “The most vulnerable will be punished,” said Deputy Jean-Michel Clement. “It’s not forbidden to put a little humanity into a draft law.”