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French Parliament passes controversial immigration bill as EU also agrees to reforms

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

France's interior minister defended a controversial new immigration bill in the French National Assembly yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GERALD DARMANIN: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: The French parliament recently approved the bill that many NGOs and those on the left are calling one of the most regressive immigration laws in decades.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The French law comes as the European Union also agreed yesterday on sweeping changes to the bloc's immigration policy.

FADEL: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is here to discuss all this and what it means. Good morning, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So let's start with this new immigration legislation in France. What makes it so controversial?

BEARDSLEY: Well, President Macron's centrist party needs support in the Parliament, and the first version of the bill was rejected. And so they redrafted it because they wanted the mainstream right to support it, and they made it a lot tougher. Critics now say the bill looks like the anti-immigration platform of the far right. And the law is causing a huge rift in Macron's own party. One minister resigned in opposition. There's been an uproar not only from the far left, but from people accusing Macron of mainstreaming the far right's ideas. And far-right leader Marine Le Pen herself called the bill a victory. Listen to this.

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MARINE LE PEN: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: She says, it's a great ideological victory for her party - "our goals have been achieved in this bill." You know, many people voted for Macron twice to block Marine Le Pen from becoming president, so they're incredulous that, they say, he is now parroting her policies. Macron, of course, rejects this. He spoke on television last night for two hours defending the bill. He says it's the shield France needs, but it's a political win for Le Pen. Some are calling it her breakout moment.

FADEL: So what are some of the more divisive provisions in the French law?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it makes it harder for legal immigrants to bring family members over. It cracks down on foreign students. And while Macron wanted to allow immigration for labor-deprived sectors, it doesn't do that. And it introduces waiting periods for immigrants who are working to be eligible for some social services, like housing aid. And they say that could lead to families living on the street. I spoke with Helene Soupios-David from migrant NGO terre d'asile. Here she is.

HELENE SOUPIOS-DAVID: France and the EU has adopted laws and regulations that are in violation of human rights, and that are also putting into question the right to asylum.

FADEL: What is Europe facing, though, when it comes to migration?

BEARDSLEY: Leila, for years we've seen a huge uptick in migration coming from the Middle East...

FADEL: Right.

BEARDSLEY: ...And all across Africa. The wave began in 2015 with the Syrian civil war, but it's continuing and increasing. And EU countries have been dealing with it in an ad hoc, uncoordinated way. Thousands of people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. And this is fuelling popularity of far-right, anti-immigrant politicians. And that's why there's such pressure on the EU as a whole to do something.

FADEL: So we've spoken about the French law. What about for the EU? What's in their new measure on immigration?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it allows for faster checking of migrants at external EU borders to facilitate repatriation of those who don't qualify for asylum. The biggest element is it creates binding solidarity for the EU. Every country has to help front-line states now, like Italy and Greece, by either taking migrants or paying front-line countries to deal with them. Ylva Johansson, European Commissioner for Home Affairs, spoke about it.

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YLVA JOHANSSON: Finally, after so many years, we have managed to agree on a common, comprehensive migration and asylum policy. It is not only a win for EU and Europe, it's a win for migrants.

BEARDSLEY: But of course, migrants and their advocates strongly disagree.

FADEL: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley. Thank you, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.