Thursday, June 29, 2006  

The legacy of

liberte, egalite et fraternite (ummm, can someone help me with the accent problem- this is getting frustrating...thanks) is being expressed in a way that (only sort of) counteracts Vichy France. Ethan Heitner has an interesting look at how some people in France are protecting the children of illegal immigrants from being deported under Sarkozy's harsh anti-illegal immigrant policy:
Some background: rightist French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to deport 25,000 immigrants this year. Muslim illegal immigrants are estimated to number between 200,000 and 400,000 in France (or about .6 percent of the population of France—about a fourth of whom are school-aged children). Popular outcry earlier this spring led him to declare a temporary truce from deporting thousands of French schoolchildren unfortunate enough to have been born elsewhere. Now he has announced that on July 4, the end of the French school year, the deportations will begin anew.

And in response, parents, teachers, army wives and religious figures (The Christian Science Monitor calls them “French soccer moms ”) have taken truly inspiring action. They have pledged humanity in the face of a bureaucracy that tears apart families, by taking hundreds, if not thousands of children into hiding all over France.


Heitner suggests some interesting parallels with both Vichy France and the US, neither of which quite work, but do contribute to his point. I won't go into great detail here, but under Vichy France, 1,000's of French Jews, many of whose families had been in France for 100's of years, were summarily deported. There were a few people who defied Vichy and hid French Jews but not many, and to France's ever-lasting shame, liberte, egalite et fraternite was not extended to its most targetted population.

The other parallel with the US comes up a bit short while still being worth looking at. The US, of course, is, engaged in a divisive discussion over illegal immigration, what to do with the children of illegal immigrants (some illegal themselves) and protecting its borders, But what Heitner fails to mention is that France, and to some extent other European countries, is experiencing the legacy of colonialism and an addiction to cheap, second class labor.

The parallel is not Eurabia/Atzlan, but disenfranchisement of native populations as in the French colonial structure and the draconian dahir berbere( 1930), the creation of tiers of classes in Algeria and the broken promises of the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hildago (Mexico/USA, 1848).

While the US has not actively (although in the case of Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Phillipines, this is arguable) maintained colonies, France did. With former colonies and protectorates spread throughout a good part of Africa, the Middle East and Asia (+ Haiti), there is a definite legacy of colonization, appropriation, metissage and noblesse oblige. In some cases, independence was relatively simple, in others, such as Algeria, France dug its heels in and a nasty, brutish and bloody war for independence ensued.

The parallel that does have some purchase here is the addiction to cheap, anonymous labor. However, the need for it has different origins. For the most part, the US has basically turned a blind eye to workers coming up from the South because of the growing economy, a seasonal agricultural product, and a nativist population that was increasingly reluctant to do stoop labor.

France, on the other hand, lost two generations of young men to war, and in the early 20's, looked to their colonies for labor. It also looked to them for cannon fodder, while at the same time marginalizing them both in France and at home, building on Lyautey's position of the beaux indigenes who were both fierce and quaint, but in all likelihood, not that bright.

In the 80's, that position started to erode as the sons and daughters of immigrants joined natives at school and excelled. As did a number of other students, products of a slightly bastardized school system in North Africa, products of carefully constructed schools in Lebanon, who came for university.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the Front National (and not unlike Tancredo in some respects) was heard to howl- you must beware, they aspire to sit at your table and sleep with your daughter!

In the US, despite howling to the contrary, the children of Latino immigrants have done very well. Latinos are a rising economic and cultural force, contributing cutting edge entrepreneurs and artists to the mix.
(and to those who are having fits over the "encroachment" of Spanish- get over it. The whole Southwest + California were originally Spanish speaking, even after the border was established.)

But where Heitner has a point, is that people need to look at the illegal immigration rulings and decided where they stand on their implimentation. For example. HR 447 was just draconian- making anyone who assisted an illegal in any way a felon. Personally, I suspect the intention of HR447 was much further reaching than simply controlling illegals. I think it was about striking fear into various populations, discouraging a domestic sanctuary movement and reducing the liberal-leaning voting population by designating them as felons-and hence no voting rights.

I would like to see an intelligent immigration policy that takes labor needs, humanitarian concerns and historical legacies into consideration. While France needs to confront the realities of the repercussions of its colonial past, the US needs to confront its own legacy of manipulation, betrayal and support for repressive regimes. From the El Salvadar option to the betrayal of the Kurds to the collaboration with governments to maintain a rich-poor divide into which we can insert our factories - we need to realize that we have helped create sub-standard economies and regimes from which people wish to escape.

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