French Interior  inister Gérald Darmanin seen in Calais on November 28, 2021 | Photo: Reuters
French Interior inister Gérald Darmanin seen in Calais on November 28, 2021 | Photo: Reuters

The French interior minister says he wants to deport "any foreigner" who has committed "serious acts" -- regardless of their administrative status in France. InfoMigrants reviews what the law actually says.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has started advocating a zero tolerance-policy for "delinquent" foreigners. In an interview with Le Monde published on Saturday July 9, Darmanin declared that he wanted to relax the conditions for the deportation of immigrants found guilty of a crime or a misdemeanor -- "regardless of [their] condition of presence on the national territory".

"Today, a foreigner who has committed serious acts is not deportable as soon as he meets certain conditions, such as arriving on the national territory before the age of 13," the minister said.

But is this true, and what does the law actually say? Stéphane Maugendre, a lawyer specializing in foreigners' rights, reviews the situation for InfoMigrants. Maugendre, who is also the honorary president of Gisti -- an association offering support and legal advice to foreigners - says that no new laws are needed.

The deportation of foreigners with regular immigration status

Maugendre expresses some surprise at Minister Darminin's usage of semantics: "Darminin speaks of foreigners who have committed 'serious acts' - but what does he mean? The 'serious acts' he mentions do not exist, legally speaking.

"It is possible to talk about acts 'against public order,' and in those cases, the law [to deport foreigners] already exists. It specifies – and has always specified – that a foreigner can be removed from French territory when they commit a disturbance against public order," Maugendre insists, in a slightly exasperated tone.

"The law already authorizes the deportation of foreigners within a framework of what is allowed or not."

'Anyone can be already deported'

Deporting a foreigner with documents is already possible, she further highlights: "The law basically targets anyone: whether you're a foreigner who arrived in France before the age of 13, whether you're a foreigner with close ties to France like someone who has French children or a French spouse, or whether you're a foreigner who has lived in France for fewer than 10 years, everyone can be expelled," Maugendre explains, adding that, however, there are some safety mechanisms.

"Simply put, there are procedural safeguards. We cannot just do things arbitrarily. We respect a preliminary procedure to verify that the deportation meets the rule of law and that there is no violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

In his interview with Le Monde, Darmanin said that he wanted to introduce reforms to a specific aspect of the law, which protects foreigners from deportation who were "present in France since the age of 13."

According to the current legal wording, such foreigners benefit from so-called "almost absolute" protection, and therefore cannot be deported.

However, Stéphane Maugendre argues that no laws need to be changed for Darmanin to have his way: "We're talking about 'almost absolute protection' and not about 'absolute protection.' This means that deportation remains possible. There are always exceptions in the law [for serious act], in particular for crimes involving terrorism, or for foreigners who commit crimes with prison sentences."

'We have been talking about this for 40 years'

The interior ministry’s website echoes the same sentiments, saying that certain actions can result in deportation regardless of the protection status of the accused foreigner. These include "terrorist behavior," acts "compromising the fundamental interests of the state," or "crimes committed by foreigners against their families (such as attempted murder)."

In concrete terms, these deportations are carried out following an established procedure: "After having served their prison sentence in France, these foreigners go before a commission which decides on their future, including whether or not to remove them from the territory," says Maugendre.

For the lawyer, it is clear that Darmanin's announcement is politically motivated: "We have been talking about deportating foreigners for 40 years! We were already talking about it when [François] Mitterrand was president. [Nicolas] Sarkozy was talking about it.

"The French interior ministers regularly make these types of declarations to win over the voters who typically identify with France's far-right party, National Rally. During the riots of 2005, for example, Nicolas Sarkozy promised to deport the delinquents ... except they were French."

The deportation of foreigners without regular immigration status

Another well-worn subject in French politics is the prospect of people without papers or a regular immigration status, especially on the far-right of the political spectrum. In his interview with Le Monde, Darmanin also addressed the hot button issue of the deportation of undocumented migrants in the country.

In recent years, the number of deportations from France has been on the rise: Statistics from the Ministry of the Interior from 2021 reveal that in 2016, a total of 12,900 people were expelled from the country, compared to 14,200 in 2017, and 15,600 in 2018.

Last year, however, France sent back a total of a little over 10,000 people. That is roughly half the number of foreigners deported from France compared to 2019 when about 19,000 people were sent away. According to the ministry, this decline in numbers was partially due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and numerous border closures associated with that.

These numbers, however, show once more that mechanisms to deport illegal aliens already exist, and are being used.

No consular papers, no problem

The deportation of an undocumented person is subject to the rule of law, as are all legal procedures. It is not an automatic forgone conclusion. For example, a foreigner without a nationality cannot be expelled from France.

In order to send that foreigner away from France, that individual’s country of origin would have to certify that it will accept that person and provide consular papers to get this process going.

However, many countries are reluctant to issue consular papers for their undocumented nationals living in France. Securing a deportation can therefore become a lengthy process, during which an undocumented person might qualify for legal papers in France in other ways.

Last September, France spoke out against countries refusing to take back their nationals. The government created stricter conditions for obtaining visas for citizens from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, provoking a diplomatic crisis with these North African nations.

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