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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les sans-papiers victimes d’un racket institutionnel

by Émilie Rive

Undocumented Immigrants: Victims of an Institutional “Racket”

Translated Saturday 24 January 2009, by Amanda Cook

Immigration. For decades, undocumented workers have been contributing to social security and paying taxes—filling up the government coffers—without being allowed to benefit in return.

Two billion Euros per year. This is the minimum amount that the State collects—through intermediary bodies such as URSSAF [1], ASSEDIC [2], and retirement funds—from the contributions of some 400,000 undocumented workers living in France. This calculation was made by Droits Devant! (militant Civil Rights group), Survie [3] , and ATTAC [4], who have launched an information campaign highlighting the injustice [5].

Jean-Claude Amara from Droits Devant! explains, "This huge institutional racket targets the hundreds of thousands of current and former illegal immigrant workers, as well as those who have since been deported. It began in 1974, with the closure of French borders. For years, immigration activists and unions that work with undocumented workers have known about this. But in order to launch an information campaign, the public needed to be ready to listen."

Since last year’s strikes for the legalization of undocumented workers, the idea that undocumented workers are often working ’on the books,’ filing their tax forms, and even actually paying taxes no longer seems so outrageous. In reality, the vast majority of illegal immigrant workers in food service, construction, and maintenance do not work on the black market. This is especially the case for domestic employees, most of whom are women.

"Our estimates are based on the social security and tax contributions of the average minimum wage worker: 400 Euros per month. But we must recognize that this hypothesis does not take into account overtime (even if many employers do not correctly compensate their workers for it), or the fact that some people hold two jobs simultaneously."

Why is this "racket" an issue? The organizations cite some examples:

Deported after 15 years of work in France, this Malian had contributed 72,000 Euros towards social security and taxes. He did not, of course, have access to ASSEDIC (unemployment insurance), because being deported meant that he was fired without warning and without severance pay. He was dropped off at the Bamako airport without a dime to his name. For the moment, it is wishful thinking to hope that his 15 years of work will yield any sort of retirement benefits.

Another example: Fired after five years of work for a security firm, a Moroccan had contributed 29,000 Euros towards social security and taxes, but was unable to access any unemployment pay. Today, he works on the black market.

Another undocumented Malian explains, “I have worked in construction for five years. I’m married. I have two children to provide for. I’m 43 years old. I have paid more than 200 Euros in taxes in the past two years. Right now, there is no work. But I can’t access any unemployment pay from ASSEDIC and there is nothing to assure me that these past five years of work will count towards my retirement if I become a legal immigrant. As a worker, I have made contributions that should give me rights, but I am unable to have them be acknowledged.”

Granted legal status in July 2008, after eight years of working in France (and after the third wave of undocumented worker strikes), this Senegalese worker’s contract has been retroactively recognized. His years as a clandestine worker will be taken into account when calculating his retirement. However, this required very unusual collective bargaining conditions with the Ministry of Labor.

"Once again, it is the Northern countries that spoliate their Southern neighbours," proclaim the organizations and unions that call for an end to deportations, the legalization of undocumented workers, and the recovery of rights for all.

Translator’s notes:

[1URSSAF: Unions de Recouvrement des Cotisations de Sécurité Sociale et d’Allocations Familiales, meaning the Organizations for the payment of social security and family benefit contributions (source: wikipedia).

[2ASSEDIC: Associations pour l’emploi dans l’industrie et le commerce, roughly translated as Associations for employment in commerce and industry. ASSEDIC is the French provider of unemployment insurance and other unemployment services.

[3Survie is a non-profit association of concerned citizens created in 1984 following up on an international appeal against worldwide hunger signed by 123 Nobel Prize recipients.

[4ATTAC - The Association pour la taxation des transactions pour l’aide aux citoyens (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions for the Aid of Citizens,) is an activist organization for the establishment of a tax on foreign exchange transactions.

[5Original supporters: SURVIE, ATTAC, SUD Travail, CADTM, MRAP, Collectif sans-papiers CGT de Cannes, Collectif sans-papiers de Montreuil, Gauche Alternative, Droits Devant!

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