Patrick Weil: “The immigration law is a cover not to talk about what is wrong”

Patrick Weil The immigration law is a cover not to

When Patrick Weil talks about migration policy in France, more than one ear should be pricked up. Not only because the research director has a certain talent for argumentation: it is above all that he has been following the subject for more than forty years. In 1981, already, he exercised as chief of staff of Georgina Dufoix, secretary of state for immigrants. Seven years later, he devoted his political science thesis to “French immigration policy between 1974 and 1988” at the IEP in Paris. During his career, he never ceased to engage on these issues, as a member of the High Council for Integration between 1996 and 2002 or as a project manager with the Jospin government. We owe him dozens of articles and several outstanding works, such as France and its foreigners. The adventure of an immigration policy from 1938 to the present day (Gallimard) or Freedom, equality, discrimination. National identity in the face of history (Grasset).

Patrick Weil, who has met President Macron on several occasions since a first exchange on the premises of the magazine Mind at the end of the 1990s, is unconvinced by the content of the immigration bill presented to the Council of Ministers on Wednesday 1 February. He reprimands a text filled with “small provisions from the offices of the Ministry of the Interior”, which dodges important subjects, such as coordination with the European countries through which migrants arrive, starting with Spain and Italy.

L’Express: The immigration bill carried by Gérald Darmanin displays very “at the same time” intentions, which the Minister of the Interior summed up by the formula “be nice to the good guys and mean to the bad guys” . Are you convinced by the balance of this text?

Patrick Weill: No. One is struck by reading this draft to note that a large part of these provisions could have been adopted by circular or decree. I am thinking of what Clemenceau said: “No need to ask for a law to seem to want to do what we could have done until now without any new text.” They seem like a cover so that we don’t talk about the questioning of fundamental rights and what is wrong with immigration policy. What made France special and honored was the right to a court with three judges, including a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, when an asylum seeker lodged an appeal not to be sent back to their country of origin. When we sometimes decide the life or death of an applicant, it is better to decide it together. One cannot proclaim one’s attachment to the right of asylum and question its effectiveness.

The government is highlighting the “work” part of its bill as a means of bringing the needs of businesses closer to immigration candidates. Isn’t that progress?

For this “work” part, there is no need for a legislative text, it suffices to replace the Valls circular with a Darmanin circular. On the shortage occupations, we should have set up a coordination structure with employers and employee unions a long time ago to examine, sector by sector, department by department, how needs could be met before having recourse to immigration. This is not done in a hurry, in a few weeks, to hide the fact that this bill is a series of small provisions coming from the offices of the Ministry of the Interior. This gives the impression of a migration policy without an overall vision. As if the regrouping at the Ministry of the Interior of all the dimensions of this policy – ​​police, asylum, work, education, foreign and European affairs – operated by Nicolas Sarkozy was a failure.

How could this ministry be reorganized?

We must make permanent and a priority what the Prime Minister did for a few weeks to prepare this bill. The piloting of this policy must be at Matignon because it is an intrinsically interministerial domain. We need a general secretariat placed under the Prime Minister, responsible for coordinating under her authority the Ministries of the Interior, Labour, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Education, Higher Education. It would also be responsible for accumulating studies, data and statistics that should serve everyone.

What are the main shortcomings of this text according to you?

I see two major shortcomings. First, a large number of people who arrive on French territory, then who do not obtain a residence permit when they ask for it, have previously passed through the territory of a neighboring country. Most of these migrants come to France not by boat, but by land. However, I have seen nothing in this bill or in its explanatory memorandum that mentions the results of cooperation with our neighbors who have signed the Schengen or Dublin agreements with us, Spain, Italy, Germany, or Belgium. President Macron had promised a new approach of solidarity with these neighbours, in particular with Italy, probably in exchange for more effective control of migration, in order to prevent the arrival on French territory of people who do not have reasons for claiming asylum or residence there. Six years later, where are we? It is an essential component. We can no longer conceive of a migration policy in France without active cooperation with our neighbors and without a relationship of trust with them.

Secondly, it should be noted that the implementation of this migration policy depends on the prefectures, more precisely on their regulatory departments, which are also responsible for issuing identity cards, passports or even compliance with new obligations of the new so-called “separatism” law. The latest reports that I have been able to read show that the resources of these prefectures have been significantly reduced. They are overwhelmed. The French see it well, they have to wait months to renew their papers, sometimes tens of kilometers from home. Immigration policy has remained a central problem for decades, to be managed as a matter of priority and in all its complexity. But it is not central to the organization of the government, which has neither the vision nor the means. In place of the Senate, I would ask for the suspension of the debates, provided for by the regulations of the Assemblies: it is a question of asking the preliminary question, that is to say of deciding that there is no need to deliberate before having, on these subjects not covered by the bill, a detailed report from the Prime Minister.

Gérald Darmanin also shows his desire to multiply the Obligations to leave French territory (OQTF) against immigrants who are not intended to stay in France. Doesn’t this project correspond to what the French want?

Issuing an OQTF is a sign of failure; failure to dissuade illegal aliens from coming; a sign that the asylum procedure is too slow, delays in protecting those who need it and attracts those who abuse it. We must therefore first seek to reduce the OQTFs by all the measures and cooperation that I describe. Then, where I agree with Gérald Darmanin, is that the priority is to get foreigners convicted of crimes or serious offenses to leave, whose failure to leave causes consternation in the neighborhoods where they return. Conversely, some immigrants in an irregular situation must be able to be regularized. I am thinking, for example, of workers who have integrated themselves, or of minors who have successfully completed training in France. They should be able to stay. And the law allows it.

How do you gauge the idea of ​​setting up immigration quotas per year, as in Canada?

This is the absolute wrong idea. In all the European countries which have set up quotas, illegal immigration has increased. It’s easy to understand: when you announce a quota, that is to say that you want thousands of immigrants, each candidate who thinks he can be one of the lucky ones is tempted to take the path of the announcing country. It works in Canada because this country is in a very specific situation: no one immigrates there from the North, because it is still frozen, and when we are in the South, that is to say in the United States, we stay there. So it’s a completely different situation.