In French, to scapegoat someone is to "faire de quelqu'un un bouc émissaire." To make somebody an emissary goat. It's a dirty trick, and I daresay that many a politician is employing it these days, and not just in France, but all around the globe. Times are tough. The coffers are empty. Money has been mismanaged. What to do? Find a bouc émissaire!
And who best to choose for this sorry role but an immigrant? Someone who speaks broken French (or broken English, in the U.S. or Britain) or better yet — somebody who can't speak the local language at all. The rhetoric goes like this: We're out of money! You'll never be comfortable again! And it's all his fault, that guy who cheated his way into our country and stole all of the good dishwashing jobs! That woman with the fancy degrees from a foreign university — why does she get the plum corporate job instead of my son, the brilliant would-be software engineer? He's the real citizen, he should get the job!
Never mind his qualifications.
This sort of anti-immigrant commentary has reached fever pitch in France lately, fueled this week by Claude Guéant, Nicolas Sarkozy's recently appointed Minister of the Interior. M. Guéant, who is also the man behind the burqa ban, has declared that he intends to curb France's legal immigration by 20,000 this year. Last week, he told the French television station TF1 that France currently admits "nearly 200,000 additional foreigners per year."
According to OMI, France's Office of Immigration, legal immigration did rise by 10.6% in 2010 to 188,780 arrivals, but the rise was due to the extra 15,000 students who were admitted as part of President Sarkozy's 2007 campaign for l'immigration choisie (selective immigration) in order to counteract France's continuing brain (and money) drain by attracting educated (and moneyed) foreigners.
That campaign, it seems, has been dropped. In the wake of the global economic crisis and Marine Le Pen's rise in the polls for the 2012 presidential election, M. Guéant has accused 24 percent of 2010's "non-European immigrants" of wanting jobs. French jobs.
You can imagine the reaction to this news. A small percentage of people are dubious of Guéant's position and intentions, but many people are on his side: 188,780 additional immigrants admitted each year?! How can we handle this overload? A 20% reduction isn't enough! Kick them out now!
What Guéant forgot to mention, and what nearly every French news site has also neglected to note, is that those 188,780 visas issued in 2010 were valid for one year only. Non-European immigrants in France must renew their visas every year, and these visas are renewed only if the foreigner has proof of residence (a mortgage, a lease or a letter from the person who is putting them up); proof of health insurance (foreigners in France are not entitled to French national health insurance if they do not pay their social security taxes in France and you cannot pay into the social security system if you do not earn money); proof that they are employed or attending university; and, if a foreigner is self-employed or retired, at least three years' minimum wage salary in a French bank. If the state deems that the foreigner does not earn enough or have enough money in a French bank account, the foreigner may be asked to leave. I have seen it happen.
So those 188,780 non-European immigrants were not exactly freeloaders. And many of them have now left the country.
That Christine Lagarde, France's Minister of Finance, and MEDEF, the country's largest business association, are against Guéant's plan speaks volumes. They know that France needs the cash, the know-how and the strong work ethic that foreigners can bring.
The big question is, will the populace agree in 2012?