PARIS (AP) — Tens of thousands of people marched in the streets of cities across France on Sunday to call on President Emmanuel Macron not to sign into law tough new legislation on immigration that they say bears the footprint of the far right and betrays French values.
According to the Interior Ministry, 75,000 people took part across the country, with 16,000 protesters turning out in Paris. The hard-left CGT union put the number of protesters nationwide at 150,000.
The timing of the protests was critical, coming four days before the Constitutional Council decides on Thursday whether all articles in the law — passed in December — conform with the French Constitution.
The bill strengthens France’s ability to deport foreigners considered undesirable and makes it tougher for foreigners to take advantage of social welfare, among other measures.
The protest was called by 200 figures from various sectors, including the arts and the unions. The law “was written under the dictate of the merchants of hate who dream of imposing on France their project of ‘national preference,’” the signatories of the call to march wrote.
National preference, under which the French, not foreigners, should profit from the riches of the land, has long been the rallying cry of the far-right National Rally party.
Macron backed the law in its tortuous course through parliament, but, in an unusual twist, has said that some articles appear unconstitutional. Le Monde newspaper recently quoted an unnamed Interior Ministry official as saying that “a good dozen” of articles could be struck down by the Constitutional Council.
Some articles of the law make it more difficult to bring family members to France, for instance, an applicant trying to join their spouse will have to show knowledge of the French language. The court is also likely to scrutinize tougher standards for receiving social services and housing or re-establishing a law done away with in 2012 that makes it illegal for a foreigner to be in France without residence papers.
The immigration law reflects what appears to be centrist Macron’s most recent effort to tilt the government to the right, notably ahead of European elections in June with the far right bounding forward in popularity, according to polls.
Also on the horizon is the possibility of a victory in 2027 presidential elections by National Rally leader Marine Le Pen. After two presidential mandates, Macron will not be in the running.