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French Parliament Approves Immigration Overhaul

France’s Parliament late Tuesday approved an immigration overhaul that was made tougher under right-wing pressure, securing a legislative win for President Emmanuel Macron but risking a political crisis for a leader elected twice on centrist vows to keep far-right populism at bay.

Hours after the bill was passed by the French Senate, it received 349 votes in favor and 186 against during a raucous late-night session in the National Assembly, the lower house, where Mr. Macron’s centrist party and its allies do not hold an absolute majority.

In a rare sign of dissent, 37 of Mr. Macron’s own party members voted against the bill or abstained, as did 22 lawmakers from other parties in his alliance. The far right, in an equally rare move, trumpeted its support for the government’s proposals, with all 88 of its lawmakers voting in favor.

Both moves have put Mr. Macron in an extremely uncomfortable position: between a brewing internal revolt and what the French news media have called a “kiss of death” from the far right National Rally party and its leader, Marine Le Pen.

In an apparent attempt to resolve that tension, Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, announced before the result that “there will be no bill if there is no majority without the National Rally.”

The move was interpreted as meaning that Mr. Macron would enact the new law only if it could have passed even without the far right’s support, as was the case on Tuesday.

“The majority stood united,” Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne said on the social media platform X after the vote. “The National Rally’s maneuver failed. Tonight, only the general interest has won.”

But the vote rattled Mr. Macron’s government and exposed fractures his party, and it was not immediately clear how he intended to shore up his majority after a tumultuous day that ended with French news media speculating that several of his ministers intended to resign if the bill passed.

The bill creates one-year, temporary residency permits under some conditions for skilled workers in fields experiencing labor shortages and streamlines the asylum process, but it also tightens rules allowing foreigners to work, live or study in France.

It makes foreigners eligible for state subsidies like housing aid or family allowances only after they have lived in France for several months or even years; makes it harder for immigrants to legally bring over family members; and forces foreign students pay new visa fees.

The vote occurred a week after the lower house shocked the government by unexpectedly rejecting a previous version of the bill, which the left deemed too harsh and the right and far right declared too lenient.

To break the deadlock, Mr. Macron’s government coaxed conservative lawmakers with tougher measures that infuriated the left, angered some of Mr. Macron’s allies and prompted the National Rally, France’s most prominent far-right party, to gleefully proclaim it had won the battle of ideas.

The party has long argued that French citizens should have preferential or even exclusive access to government subsidies and aid, and that foreigners should have restricted or no access to such benefits.

Speaking on Tuesday after a joint committee of senators and representatives hashed out a compromise that paved the way for the evening’s votes, Ms. Le Pen, the anti-immigration far-right leader, said that it was “a very small step — there is still a lot to do.”

But Ms. Le Pen, who leads the National Rally lawmakers in the lower house, added: “On principle, I think it’s a great ideological victory for our movement.”

While Mr. Macron has pitched himself as a centrist defender of liberal democracy, critics say that his decision to support a bill that reflects many right-wing, anti-immigration beliefs has shattered that image.

“In 2022, after he was elected, he said, ‘I won’t forget all the people who voted for me because they wanted to oppose Marine Le Pen,’” said Vincent Martigny, a professor of political science at the University of Nice. “Now he’s doing the opposite and paving the way for her.”

Lawmakers for an alliance of leftist Socialist and Green parties in the lower house harangued the government ahead of the vote. One of the lawmakers, André Chassaigne, said that Mr. Macron had been elected on the promise to “protect us from the worst” of the far right.

“Today, you’ve gone from shield to steppingstone,” Mr. Chassaigne said.

Mr. Macron’s government rejected the criticism, arguing that a lack of forceful immigration reform had fueled the far right.

“What makes extremist forces rise?” Mr. Darmanin, the interior minister, said. “It’s a lack of solutions.”

The government said tougher immigration rules were necessary to keep the French safe, for instance by making it easier to deport foreigners who are convicted of crimes, and pointed to measures in the bill that the far right rejects, like a ban on putting minors in detention centers for illegal immigrants.

Unlike Mr. Macron’s pension overhaul, which raised the legal retirement age to 64 from 62 and was unpopular from start to finish, recent polls show that roughly 60 to 80 percent of the French support stricter immigration rules similar to the ones in his bill.

When the immigration proposal was unveiled over a year ago, the government had pitched it as one of Mr. Macron’s trademark “at the same time” bills — a centrist attempt to strike a balance between firmness and openness. But opposition parties broadly rejected it.

The government could have used a constitutional tool allowing it to push the immigration bill through the lower house without a vote, as it did for the pension overhaul. But that move was denounced as a strong-arm tactic, and the government wanted to pass the immigration bill in a more democratic way.

To do so, it secured support from the conservative Republicans party, which has 62 lawmakers in the lower house.

The Republicans, themselves increasingly aligned with the far-right on immigration, pushed to make the bill stricter, for instance by making temporary residency permits for workers in fields with labor shortages a rare exception, not an automatic right.

“We have been fighting for this for months, I’d even say years,” Éric Ciotti, the head of the Republicans, told reporters on Tuesday.

But labor unions, migrant advocacy groups and humanitarian aid associations say that measures like the creation of a fine for undocumented migrants will make integration of foreigners harder, and that restricting access to benefits is a betrayal of France’s universalist social model.

The country’s defender of rights, an independent ombudsman that monitors civil and human rights, alerted Parliament that the bill “seriously undermines the principle of equality and nondiscrimination, the bedrock of our Republic.”

After a small protest near the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Aboubacar Dembele, an undocumented worker who arrived in France in 2018, said that “the law negates everything — human rights, asylum laws, immigrant rights.”

Juliette Guéron-Gabrielle contributed reporting.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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