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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Des grains de sable dans la machine à expulser

by Marie Barbier

"Grains of Sand" in the Gears of the Expulsion Machine

Translated Wednesday 12 August 2009, by Kieran O’Meara and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Immigration. We meet some civil servants who refuse to take part in the witch-hunt for sans-papiers, even if this means disobeying orders and running the risk of being disciplined.

In 2009, the Minister for Immigration, Eric Besson, is set to expel 28,000 foreigners from French territory. This policy of forced repatriation cannot take place without the cooperation of all the State agencies. Denunciation of undocumented immigrants is taking place at a furious pace. For example, the police were alerted to the status of an Ecuadorian woman by a civil servant at the town hall in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, when she went there to enroll her son at the local school. Then, there was the case of a Regional Health Insurance Fund agent in the Yonne, who reported an Angolan man to the police. The man was both seriously handicapped and suffering from an illness.

Not all civil servants agree with Frédéric Lefebvre, spokesperson for the UMP, for whom, "informing the police is a Republican duty." Some people have a different concept of welcome and of public service. They include ticket clerks at local government offices, agents of the national employment agency (le Pôle emploi), and labour inspectors. They resist French immigration policy, which they judge to be pernicious, at their level. "More and more people in this country are refusing to spy on other people and report them to the police," according to Jean-Pierre Dubois, president of The League for Human Rights (la Ligue des droits de l’homme). "In certain cases civil disobedience is an obligation. It is also a way of saying that we are not afraid."

This resistance can be individual or collective and takes on many forms: from the smile of the ticket clerk at the local government office to the Pôle emploi agent’s refusal to check a client’s identity papers. "It is a movement which takes place partly on an individual level but also links up with the trade union movement", adds Jean-Pierre Dubois. Personal and civic ethical codes come together to say: "No, I won’t do that. Count me out". These minor everyday acts are like so many grains of sand quietly clogging up the apparatus of expulsion.

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