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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Immigration : le ministère en quête « d’identité »

by Karine Parquet

Curbing Immigration in France: The New Ministry’s "Identity" Crisis

Translated Wednesday 20 June 2007, by Emma Paulay

Controversy. On 29 May Brice Hortefeux received the historians of the Porte Dorée immigration centre to calm the stir brought about by their collective resignation.

“At other times in history a few intellectuals have found themselves in a minority to defend a cause which in time was proved just” was the reply given by the members of the National Centre of Immigration History (CNHI) when Brice Hortefeux presented them with the polls in favour of the new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. The attempt at intimidation, if indeed it was such, failed.

Unjustified and dangerous

Barely up and running, the new Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-development is having to spend all its time appeasing the storm of protests accompanying its arrival. Before a series of meetings with different representatives of associations defending foreigners, Brice Hortefeux began his day on 29 May with a meeting with Jacques Toubon, president of the CNHI and the twelve members of the centre’s history committee.

Eight of them had resigned from their official authority at the CNHI on 18 May in protestation against the unjustified and dangerous establishment of a ministry which associated the terms “immigration” and “national identity”. All fear the perverse effects of political exploitation of national identity, the definition of which should not be up to the state. “Putting such terms together is an expression of extreme right-wing and nationalist traditions based on distrust of, and hostility towards, foreigners, in times of crisis” underlines the historian Patrick Weil.

Unanimous disapproval

As the eight researchers see it, the establishment of this ministry questions their mission at the Centre which was “to change the way people see their society today by reminding them that for the last two centuries successive arrivals of foreigners have contributed to develop, transform and enrich France”.

“The work session was an opportunity to examine the questions raised during the public debate” a ministry communiqué said on 29 May. An exchange of points of view, some would say. An attempt at smoothing things over, others might think. Whatever the case, the new minister has had to face the “unanimous disapproval of the CNHI members, even though not all had resigned” as the historian Gérard Noiriel indicated as he left the meeting.

Vigilance will be maintained

As he clarified the purposes of the ministry, Brice Hortefeux emphasised that its objective is to “control immigration by countering illegal immigration and acting in favour of the development of countries of origin to ensure successful integration of immigrants in the national community.”

That said, the idea of national identity remains, and so do the possibilities of excessive over-interpretation. “We are going to start work on a pedagogical and civic programme to explain our worries to the citizens”, Gérard Noiriel explains. “We must keep a close watch on exactly what will come under this ministry’s name”.

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