Solidarité ! Sans Papiers and Anti-Detention Movements within and outside of France’s Centres de Rétention Administrative

Pugh, Alexa [Browse]
Senior thesis
123 pages


Buckinx, Barbara [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year
Summary note
The Sans Papiers in France first began mobilizing in the 1990s, as France’s more restrictive Pasqua laws created barriers to regularization. In 2003, Nicolas Sarkozy became Minister of the Interior and, like Pasqua, made goals to control immigration and deport illegal immigrants. The passing of CESEDA in 2005 was the beginning of an immigration policy that continues to govern regularization, detention, and the right to asylum and has been amended four times since its passing. The Sans Papiers mobilization continued against these policies, accompanied by allies in workers’ unions, pro-regularization organizations, and those protesting against the detention and deportation of many of these Sans Papiers. The fight against illegal immigration has led to the growth and institutionalization of France’s centres de rétention administrative (immigrant detention centers) or CRAs which causes many organizations, including the associations who work within the centers, protest. Anti-detention mobilization continued outside of the CRAs, directed toward policymakers and educating the French public, but also inside the CRAs, leading to small acts of protest as well as mass hunger strikes and even revolts. Which mobilizations worked best in changing the use of detention and how? This paper will analyze these methods and will also examine how French public opinion, and the desires of citizens and policymakers to control immigration, can be targeted by the mobilizations as a necessary factor, but can also act as a barrier to large changes in the detention regime which is treated as a major tool in the fight against illegal immigration. The paper finds that mobilization outside the center has had the strongest impact on the use of detention of Sans Papiers, but has also relied on the experiences, testimony, and mobilization of Sans Papiers inside the centers. Detained Sans Papiers and Sans Papiers protesting outside of CRAs reaffirm their own identities, political strength, and challenge the treatment of Sans Papiers in France, including the detention and deportation policies. This is seen in more recent laws that offer alternatives to detention for families and minors. These laws have also altered the detention process. This impact remains to be seen, as the latest change in detention was offered in the 2016 law on foreigners, passed March 8. The success of anti-detention mobilization is also affected by overarching policy goals of fighting illegal immigration, and ensuring authorities can carry out as many deportations as possible. The paper also finds that French public opinion favors more restrictive immigration policies, although it is unclear what French citizens’ attitudes are toward the use of immigrant detention as a tool of controlling immigration and removing illegal immigrants from French territory. Further research would examine French citizens’ attitudes toward the use of immigrant detention and whether they could support methods of deportation that do not use this type of confinement and, if so, would these alternatives offer the “efficient deportation” desired by French policymakers?

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