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Casualties of Care Immigration and the Politics of Humanitarianism in France

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Sans-Papiers and the Context of Political Struggle

On October 27, 2005, responding to a call about a break-in, French police chased three young boys of Arab origin in the cité (housing estate) of Clichy-sous-Bois. The boys climbed the wall of a power plant in their attempt to escape the police, and two of the boys, aged fifteen and seventeen, died, while the third suffered from severe burns. Later it was recognized that the police had chased the boys by mistake and that there was no burglary. The boys had been playing soccer with their friends in the neighborhood and had dispersed to avoid the all too familiar police harassment. In response to this event, France erupted in what were called urban "riots," which lasted for over three weeks, burning ten thousand cars and causing the arrest of nearly five thousand people. This was just three days after then-interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy said that he would rid the banlieue area of Argenteuil of racaille (scum or riffraff), by which he meant youth of immigrant origin. In response to the events, the government declared a state of emergency, using a 1955 law originally passed during the war of independence in Algeria-a move that rendered all too apparent how the borders between metropole and colony had never fully disappeared, but rather had been resurrected in new ways within the metropole itself.

These so-called riots-perhaps more accurately labeled "revolts" to recognize their political nature-opened a space in France to discuss questions of economic inequality, racial discrimination, policing, and segregation for those of immigrant descent. Quite suddenly, it seemed, France's postcolonial status was no longer a public secret: it appeared in full view, in newspapers all over the world and, more importantly, in France itself. I open with this event as one of the most visible recent political eruptions in France of the tensions surrounding questions of immigration, labor, and their related colonial histories. In other words, this was not a sudden crisis; as the "banlieue film" La Haine (Hate) had already demonstrated in 1995, in its prescient fictional depiction of riots caused by police brutality against youth of immigrant origin, it is an ongoing, unresolved situation, where racial discrimination, police and state violence, and economic inequality simmer in what are also now called "ghettos."

In this chapter, I trace the shape of political action around immigration on the ground. In what context do regimes of care come into play-what is the larger frame? My own entry into this cluster of issues began with the question of the sans-papiers. While not the same struggle as the 2005 riots, which focused attention on the plight of French citizens-mostly children of immigrant parents, born in France-the struggle of undocumented immigrants derives from many of the same unresolved issues and overlaps significantly with the questions and problems that spurred the riots. Both are shaped by France's history of colonialism as much as they are by the current context of "neoliberal" reforms. Both are a product of racially informed technologies of exclusion, and both are shaped by the history of immigrant labor. In some ways, the sans-papiers struggle is an earlier incarnation of the riots; in other ways, it is a parallel and overlapping struggle. So, taking this as my jumping-off point, I explore the political eruption of the sans-papiers in order to think about the context of its emergence and limits, and about the rise of a competing complex of institutions and practices of care. Many scholars and activists have written about the sans-papiers precisely because of the significance of the movement for new practices of citizenship and belonging; my goal is not to revisit this work, but rather to think about the nature and context of the sans-papiers political movement and why it has come to be challenged by a form of antipolitics. I say this at a time when sans-papiers are still marching, occupying churches, conducting hunger strikes, as they have since the 1970s; yet they are treated as individuals on a case-by-case basis by the state. Those who hope to be regularized must prove to be the exception-those who fit into the norm will remain undocumented. In exploring the context of the sans-papiers movement-from one of the foundational moments in 1996 to the challenges of global capitalism, colonialism, and changing practices of sovereignty-this chapter also asks, what kinds of resolutions need to happen, of past and present, for a new future to be accessible and imaginable?

The Sans-Papiers

The Political Struggle

In August 1996, French riot police stormed Saint Bernard Church in Paris where three hundred or so undocumented Africans had taken refuge in their quest for papers and for basic human rights. The police broke down the church doors with axes, throwing tear gas on mothers and babies, and dragging people out. A few were deported that very night, one away from his wife and children. Madiguène Cissé, a woman of Senegalese origin and spokesperson for the sans-papiers, was strip-searched in front of her daughter, while one policewoman tried to humiliate her, taking her cell phone away from her, indicating that she, as a foreigner, had no right to it: "They've hardly come down from the trees, and they already have mobiles in their hands" (Cissé 1997, cited from Notes from Nowhere 2003:42).

The media coverage of this event prompted an immediate and vociferous reaction by the French public; they were outraged at the way the government had treated the sans-papiers. Paradoxically, polls showed that they did not object to the restrictive immigration policies that caused people to enter into situations of illegality; rather, they objected to the way these people had been treated-the complete absence of respect for basic rights. The government was chastised by all sides for breaking with France's history as the founder and home of human rights principles and, as one intellectual claimed, for breaking with the "founding principles of the social order."

The occupation of and eviction from Saint Bernard Church was the latest and most significant manifestation of a battle that has been ongoing since the early 1970s, including a series of hunger strikes. Yet with the occupation of Saint Bernard, the existence of undocumented immigrants was brought front and center, "out from the shadows" as they claimed, in a new, mediatized and politicized way. Images of the sans-papiers, consumed by the public on TV and in newspapers, jolted movie stars, film producers, and intellectuals into action in support of the sans-papiers, for what they said was the sake of human rights. The intellectual Pierre Bourdieu and movie star Emmanuelle Béart were among those who joined in. Some came to stay in the church with the sans-papiers and some spoke out to the newspapers. Still others decided to become parrains, or "godparents," to the sans-papiers to help avoid heavy-handed treatment by the police-sans-papiers carried identity cards around with them made by their godparents as a form of protection. Demonstrations abounded with human rights rhetoric-this was about the protection of basic rights and equality, the reason for the French revolution. How could France of all places deny people basic rights?

This 1996 uprising of immigrants into public space was an attempt to show the French state and public that undocumented immigrants were not criminals in hiding but, as the spokesperson Ababacar Diop stated, "We wanted to remind people that we existed and wished to be free of the illegality that French laws had thrust upon us. There was something extraordinarily simple in this vision. We were humans confronted with immense difficulties. What could be more natural than to make known our distress and to ask for a framework of negotiation with the authorities so that we could see an end to the tunnel, without animosity?" (1997b:1).

The sans-papiers took control of their own situation; while associations and mediators helped, the sans-papiers led the way, refusing to let anyone speak on their behalf. In many ways, this marked their emergence as political actors. They coined the term sans-papiers, literally "without papers," to move away from the criminality and suspicion associated with clandestinity to a focus on people deprived of basic rights. Coming together under one identity was an extraordinary achievement, since sans-papiers are a remarkably heterogeneous group. Not only do they come from many nationalities, socioeconomic classes, ages, levels of education, and linguistic groups, but there are many different reasons for their lack of papers. Some began as refugees, others as students, and still others as spouses of French nationals. It is important to note that most entered legally and lost their papers due to changes in French immigration legislation (Fassin and Morice 2000). Most notable here were the Pasqua laws of 1993, which helped to enact the center-right-wing government's "zero immigration" policy. These created a set of often contradictory requirements for all persons filing a request for legal status, which ranged from proof of uninterrupted housing and employment for those wanting to renew visas, to an abrogation of jus soli, taking away the right of those born on French soil to French citizenship and making it contingent upon an oath of loyalty and a lack of criminal record. New policing practices (an intensification of the emergency security "plan Vigipirate") were instituted as a part of this legislative package, including identity checks of anyone who looked "foreign." This came with a penalty of three months of detention for anyone who could not provide valid documents. Aiding and abetting undocumented immigrants also became a criminal offense at this time (GISTI 1994; Iskander 2007).

The sans-papiers occupied the Saint Bernard Church as a last-ditch effort in a series of occupations that began with Saint Ambroise Church in Paris in March 1996. They made two demands on the second day of the Saint Ambroise occupation: the appointment of a mediator and a moratorium on deportations. The response was their forced eviction from the church by the police, with the complicity of the clergy. The sans-papiers subsequently moved from place to place, occupying locales from the Japy gymnasium in Paris to the Cartoucherie theater in Vincennes (just outside Paris), becoming more politicized with each move, each eviction.

In a stalemate with the government, despite growing domestic and international support, the group of sans-papiers established a committee of eminent personalities (lawyers, scientists, clergymen)-a de facto College of Mediators to act as intermediaries between the authorities and themselves. The government recognized this group, and negotiations began in May 1996.

The government, then under Jacques Chirac's right-wing party (Rassemblement pour la République, or RPR), promised to examine the cases favorably; but the government went back on its promises, saying it would only give temporary (three-month) acknowledgments of residence to parents of French children. In fact, not even this was true; the twenty-two people given temporary papers were chosen arbitrarily, and the majority of sans-papiers were left in the same position as before. The sans-papiers' answer was to occupy Saint Bernard Church.

This time, the clergy helped; the priest of Saint Bernard called for peaceful settlement. Ten sans-papiers went on a hunger strike for more than fifty days. The church was consistently full, welcoming more than two thousand visitors and supporters each day. Political leaders such as the head of the French Communist Party, Robert Hue, and the widow of former president François Mitterrand, Danielle Mitterrand, went to show their support. The media kept a constant vigil. But on August 23, 1996, for the first time ever in France, the state gave the order to invade a church. The police broke down the doors with axes and tear gas in hand.

A few months after the Saint Bernard Church affair, the Socialists came into power, helped in no small part by these demonstrations against governmental abuses of human rights. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's government promised to deal with sans-papiers more generously. Once in power, they passed a law that allowed for the legalization of sans-papiers who fulfilled certain conditions. France was finally lauded for living up to its reputation as home to human rights.

The Backlash: Policing and Detention

Despite this rhetoric, the promised reexamination of cases of undocumented immigrants in 1997 and the new law in 1998 on entry and residence of foreigners were both much less generous than initially promised by the Jospin government. The reexamination of cases on the basis of more-favorable criteria-an "amnesty" of sorts-only gave eighty thousand people papers, fewer than half of those who applied, and many sans-papiers still found themselves without papers, despite fulfilling the required criteria. People like the two Malian men who were deported right after the Saint Bernard eviction while their children remained in France were the flip side of the few legalized, and their deportations happened despite Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which explicitly says that the state cannot deport someone with links in that same country. The state's treatment of sans-papiers seemed as brutal and arbitrary as ever.

When I arrived in France in September 1999, some were already saying it was the aftermath of the sans-papiers movement. Although the social movement was and is still very much alive, it no longer commanded the national and international media and political attention it had in 1996. Hundreds of associations still take it as their primary mandate, each taking a different perspective, each lobbying for a slightly different constituency. These associations, from labor unions to cultural and neighborhood groups, for the most part use the language of human rights in a fight for equal citizenship, and they locate their struggles in the French tradition of respect for human rights. Yet these cries for human rights fell on now-deaf state ears-a reality that has only been confirmed and exaggerated with the turn to the right in France after the 2002 elections, and ever more so with the election of Sarkozy as president in 2007. There was and is still much violence and exploitation: I encountered many people living and enduring such situations-at home, in the workplace, and often in domestic service, for women in particular; these people had often submitted claims with appropriate documentation and yet had not been regularized. Drissia, a fifty-year-old woman of Moroccan origin I met through Rajfire, an activist network for undocumented and immigrant women, revealed to me the extent of the situation. Drissia had been in France for over ten consecutive years, which qualified her for papers according to the new law put into effect by the Socialists in 1998 (Article 12bis°3); yet, despite what immigrant rights lawyers believed was proof of her uninterrupted presence on French soil, her request had been turned down multiple times. At the monthly meetings and regular protest marches, I saw her alternate between tears and deep anger, often in one sentence, at the sheer frustration of being treated as though she did not exist. As Drissia's case illustrates, what counts as proof of uninterrupted presence is unclear-it depends on the interpretation of each immigration official. For people who have been trying to erase any trace of their presence so as not to be deported, providing official proof of each month of residence for over ten years is a nearly impossible task-practically a contradiction in terms.

Many of the people who had not been granted papers found themselves ghettoized in the banlieues, which have a particular significance in French immigration history. They are the result of discriminatory housing policies, aimed at structuring a formal outsiderness for the workforce imported from the former colonies in the 1950s and 1960s. Policing of what constitutes "normal housing" has forced all types of immigrants into this periphery; for instance, immigrants are not allowed to bring in their families unless they first prove that they have "at their disposal housing considered normal for a comparable family living in France" (Scullion 1995:39, cited from Rosello 1997:242).

The sans-papiers were forced into the banlieues in a very particular way. They would often end up living there, as it was the only place they could find landlords willing to rent to them: it was a criminal offense to rent to someone without papers. But most importantly, once in the banlieues, sans-papiers were often stuck there with no way out. This was enforced by identity checks, first instituted by Interior Minister Charles Pasqua with the Vigipirate plan but still in force under the Socialists and reinstituted with even more vigor after September 11, 2001; that is, anyone can be stopped in a public place and asked for their identity papers. Identity checks are perhaps predictably racialized and gendered-a point to which I will return: Rachid, a man of North African origin I encountered at various marches and demonstrations, explained to me that he got checked four times a day. While, on the whole, young men are policed more than women, as they have come to symbolize a certain antimodern and ethnicized violence (Guénif-Souilamas and Macé 2004), most people who are not Franco-French (i.e., white) have stories to tell of identity checks and random arrests. I talked to a Columbian lesbian couple, one light skinned, the other dark; they explained that Maria, the one with the darker complexion, was regularly stopped by the police, while Valerie, with the lighter complexion, had not once been "controlled." If one does not produce papers, one can be taken into custody and deported, or given notice to leave the territory within a month. As it so happens, one of the most common places to check for papers is on the metro and, more specifically, on the RER-the trains going between Paris and the banlieues. Most sans-papiers avoid the metro/RER for fear of getting "controlled." As Paul Silverstein (2004:111) writes, on the Parisian transportation network, race, space, and violence are intimately linked; that is, those taking the RER from the banlieue into Paris are understood and treated as especially prone to uncivilized, violent behavior. In this sense, policing is simultaneously linked to what people look like and where they are. The upshot is that sans-papiers are isolated in the banlieues, out of sight of the French mainstream.

But the violence against the sans-papiers is perhaps most powerfully illustrated by the increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees who are placed by the police in detention centers without trial. In France, these centers were initially instituted in the 1960s as a form of "administrative internment"; the centers coincided with the first waves of labor migration from the former colonies into France, targeting Algerians. Attention has been refocused on these centers because of their growing numbers and size and the increasingly important place they play, not only in France's politics of immigration, but as a global strategy of containment. In France, there are three main categories: zones d'attentes, or "waiting areas," where people are put immediately upon debarking from planes or trains or boats before being deported; locaux de rétention administrative, or "administrative detention premises," which are found in places like police stations and where immigrants can be held up to a maximum of forty-eight hours; and centres de rétention administrative, or "holding centers," where people are brought before being driven back across the border and where they can be kept for thirty-two days by French law, or up to eighteen months under European directive.

Zones d'attentes are spaces in airports and other ports of entry-spaces of nonliberty where those refused entry to France are detained. In 2005 there were 122 zones d'attentes in France, and in 2008 the national association for border assistance to foreigners, ANAFE, reported close to 140 in France and the larger overseas departments and territories of France (DOM TOM), mostly in makeshift areas requisitioned by administrative authorities, such as in police stations and hotel rooms (Rodier 2003; de Loisy 2005). The decision to detain someone is purely administrative, although it is supposed to be monitored by a judge after seventy-two hours-the judge can choose to prolong the detention up until twenty days (crucially, the judge does not hear or decide on detainees' cases for asylum, simply on the right to extend detention).

The most important zone d'attente is located on the premises of Charles de Gaulle Airport (Roissy), in Paris; otherwise known as "zapi 3," or zone d'attente pour personnes en instance, it was inaugurated in January 2001. French law states that those detained in zones d'attentes must be provided with "hotel-like service"; thus, the minister of interior rented rooms in the Ibis hotel, the well-known global chain of hotels. Unfortunately, rather than offering Michelin-guide quality, the Ibis hotel at Roissy has been transformed into a detention center cum prison, in which the law is effectively suspended and the police act as sovereign. Reports from the rare, controlled visits revealed that the windows were sealed shut, there was no air circulation or daylight, and, at one count, forty-two people were squashed into a room of forty square meters (approximately four hundred square feet)-and this included pregnant women. There were no bathrooms in the immediate vicinity, leaving the refugees and immigrants to be accompanied to the bathroom by a police officer, who often refused to perform this duty after a certain hour. These zones d'attentes have been condemned by doctors, lawyers, and activists for their insalubrious and inhumane conditions-the odors are described as suffocating and fetid, and people are crammed in "like cattle" (La Libération 2000).

Only occasionally do the abuses committed in these centers erupt into public space: until 2005, NGOs were denied regular access to zones d'attentes. During my primary period of research, from 1999 to 2001, the state allowed eight associations to visit, but each was only allowed eight visits per year, in controlled time periods; they required advance notice, and the association members were accompanied by border police at all times. These, in addition to visits by members of parliament and investigations run by the European Council's Committee for the Prevention of Torture, revealed that people's rights were regularly violated (Rodier 2003). Evidence of police violence showed up in the form of bumps, bruises, and torn clothes and was further supported by cases such as that of a woman from Sierra Leone who, eight months pregnant, miscarried in the center at Roissy due to alleged police violence. She was en route to the United States to join family members, having fled Sierra Leone after her husband disappeared. Her case became known because, with the help of an association, she decided to press charges against the police (see Associated Press 2000).

ANAFE spearheads the effort to get access to the zones d'attentes, particularly for lawyers and doctors; it publishes reports based on rare visits and telephone interviews, and the group documents repeated violations of fundamental rights. During a one-month trial period in May 2002, which gave ANAFE regular entry into zapi 3, the organization documented hundreds of cases of abuse and violence. The reports by ANAFE and undercover journalist Anne de Loisy illustrate that law has little bearing in these locales. Documented violations include moral and physical violence, humiliations, injuries at the hands of police, violations of the right to apply for asylum by refusal to register claims, and abuse of minors. ANAFE has documented hundreds of cases that go unpunished, like the Haitian who arrived at Roissy airport in December 2001 and tried to register his claim for asylum but was stopped from doing so by the border police in the zone d'attente. Two days later, he was beaten with a club when he tried to resist being put on an airplane and deported (ANAFE 2003). A similar case was revealed in a newspaper article in March 2001, about how a young woman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo had her legs crushed as French police attempted to drag her from a detention center onto an airplane for deportation. She had submitted a claim for asylum, which the detention center administrators simply refused to file. There are reports of Guineans, Chinese, Malians, Sierra Leonians-the list goes on-all of whom have been forcibly stopped from registering claims for asylum despite the law that refugee claimants cannot be deported without first having their claims reviewed. In the zones d'attentes, violations of the law are rampant: from sadistic police officers who like to kick detainees in the genitals (ANAFE 2003) to children being counted as adults, separated from their parents and detained. Anne de Loisy, the undercover journalist who got access to zapi 3 as a Red Cross mediator, also documents a shocking brutality: "I was prepared for the violence regularly described by associations. Unfortunately, what I observed was worse than anything I could have imagined" (de Loisy 2005:10, my translation).

The countless instances of violence in these detention centers occur with impunity-the police are rarely held accountable. The deaths of those forced from these centers onto airplanes are part of the same story: an Argentinean died in December 2002 of a heart attack after having been handcuffed by hands and feet to a seat and brutalized by the police; a twenty-four-year-old Ethiopian suffered the same fate in January 2003. In this sense, those in detention centers qualify as what Achille Mbembe (2003) calls the "living dead," where civil death is on a short continuum with physical death.

While neither these centers nor these practices can be called "new," my point is that they must be located in a political environment where policing is ever more apparent and applauded. Already, in his first round as interior minister, Sarkozy was proudly dubbed the "top cop," and president Chirac garnered a similar title, "first cop of France," after he named himself head of the already extant Council of Domestic Security. Chirac and Sarkozy, and subsequently Interior Minister de Villepin, supported new laws on security that extend police power and were applauded for it by much of the French public, who see themselves in a crisis of law and order. For instance, the 2003 loi Sarkozy promised to double the number of places in the centres de rétention over the subsequent five years, and the time of detention was increased to thirty-two days from the maximum twelve that previously existed Tabet 2003. In these zones, the rule of law has been reduced to police rule and it functions along emergency lines.

Struggles continue to this day for the basic right to freedom of movement in the new "borderless" Europe, the right to housing and autonomy, and the right to be free from violence and exploitation; I both participated in and witnessed a continuous stream of protest marches, occupations of buildings, and hunger strikes. Despite the proliferation of NGOs, and regardless of the protests that take place at a rate and level rarely attained elsewhere, very little ground has been gained. The question, then, is what else is going on? What is the larger context of the struggle? Why were the sans-papiers able to command attention for a short period of time-to even take a stab at collective change-only to be rendered redundant, their continuing protests normalized and diffused to the extent that they are often simply a part of the French landscape (see figures 1 and 2)? We cannot answer this without understanding the interwoven stories of political economy, empire, and sovereignty.

[Figure 1]

[Figure 2]The Contradictions of Capital and Labor

In France, as elsewhere in the global North, a significant tension has emerged: as increasingly restrictive legislation has forced borders closed, transforming the so-called open European space into Fortress Europe, the black market and informal economies have grown, and labor conditions have changed to favor temporary, insecure forms of labor with no legal protection. These informal economies, largely shunned by Europeans, offer opportunities to those in the global South where conditions may be more precarious, encouraging migration. This tension is apparent in the increased demand for workers in the agricultural, garment, and construction industries in France, which is met by closed juridical doors-this was demonstrated to me clearly in conversations with sans-papiers. For instance, at a solidarity event run by a local sans-papiers collective, I met Ahmad, a thin, drawn-looking man of Maghrebi origin. The event revolved around the film La Promesse by the now critically acclaimed Dardenne brothers, which takes as its subject the sans-papiers in Belgium. After the film was shown, there was an open-microphone session for the sans-papiers in the audience. It was an opportunity for them to speak and share their experiences. Ahmad had been sitting behind me during the film, and we struck up a conversation afterward. As I have already noted, I was identified as North African or maghrébine by nearly everyone I met, which gave me access to situations such as this-along with the attendant ethical responsibility not to abuse my power as researcher-but also denied me access to others. We exchanged information about our legal status, and then he explained to me, rather incredulously, that "it was so much easier to find work on the black market! I never had trouble. Now that I have papers, I can't find work." Ahmad is just one example of a tension between industry wanting and needing labor and the state refusing to let people in legally. Stated otherwise, he exemplifies the contradictions between capital and labor, where capital flows relatively freely while labor cannot. One might say that undocumented immigrants are desired precisely because they can be denied all rights. The French state is complicit in this process, having passed laws that produce a category of person who is neither legalizable nor deportable.

I turn to these contradictions to suggest that they are significant in creating the liminal spaces in which sans-papiers often find themselves, and they have been an important element in driving the sans-papiers to political action. At the same time, these contradictions pose a very difficult challenge. In their discussions of migrant labor in contemporary Europe, Jon Gubbay (1999) and Gareth Dale (1999) explain that capitalism is at once cosmopolitan and transterritorial and yet simultaneously creates and relies upon territorial structures, specifically states. States actively organize the forces and relations of production and manage and control property and populations, both within their territories and beyond, when possible. Capitalism engenders tendencies toward labor mobility and toward the generalization of political rights and citizenship, but it simultaneously depends on the establishment of economic, political, and cultural infrastructures through which the management of social reproduction occurs. These processes in turn curtail free mobility of labor and encourage the limitation of rights (Dale and Cole 1999). Saskia Sassen (1996) has described this tension as one between denationalizing economic space-where practices and institutions such as global financial markets, international business law firms, NAFTA, GATT, and WTO all push for border-free economic spaces-and renationalizing political discourse, where the drive is to intensify border control to keep immigrants and refugees out. These contradictions and challenges posed by global capital, growing economic disparities between the North and South, and an aging European population (the United Nations reported that Europe would require 700 million immigrants by 2050 to keep the same ratio between active and retired members of society) lay the groundwork for labor mobility and France's need for immigrant labor-yet they also increase France's need to assert control over its territory, enacting sovereign power by restricting access to immigrants.

The power of global capitalism-much of which derives precisely from its contradictions-is what the sans-papiers movement has bumped up against, and the strategies mobilized thus far have not been entirely successful in challenging it. The sans-papiers struggle has been most vocally and explicitly one for basic human rights, yet it would be wrong not to highlight, within this, their demand for the right to work free from exploitation. In their manifestos, they ask for the regularization of workers already in place, rejecting the vulnerability (précarité) that comes with either temporary or no work permits. Rather, they have argued that since there is an important relationship between the French economy and irregular migrant labor, they-and their labor-should be recognized.

Natasha Iskander goes one step further to argue that the sans-papiers movement that began in 1996 was at base a labor mobilization (Iskander 2007). With a study of the garment industry in the Sentier district of Paris, she suggests that the anti-immigrant policy initiatives, particularly the restrictive Pasqua laws, shut undocumented immigrants out of the informal labor markets where they held good jobs and enjoyed opportunities for advancement through informal social networks. With the new laws, firms dependent on informal labor for their flexibility ended up developing hybrid forms of informality, with one part above board. This required legal work permits for the better off-the-books employment, and those without papers, while flexible, were increasingly seen as a liability since if caught, their employers could be fined and firms shut-down. After this crackdown on undeclared work, those without legal permits were relegated to working in underground production sites, in which they worked in both physical and social isolation, on extremely temporary terms, and in jobs that required low-skill, with no opportunity for advancement. With the isolation enforced by an increased policing of immigrants and identity cards, forcing them into the banlieues, they had no opportunity to challenge their substandard working conditions, and no social networks that could protect them from exploitation. Iskander therefore suggests that the labor code enforcement that came as part of the new anti-immigrant laws resulted in a new underclass of workers with few rights, and without power, who were pushed to collective action; and this came to fruition in the sans-papiers social movement.

Even while the social movement challenged rights that affect employment, rather than work arrangements themselves-such as the right to freedom of movement-the sans-papiers have made no attempt to hide their protests as driven in a critical way by labor conditions. They protest around symbolic buildings such as La Bourse (the French stock exchange) and have occupied areas such as the French Federation of Construction (NoBorder Network 2005, cited from McNevin 2006:145). They have strong links with the trade unions: at the majority of protest marches that I attended, the trade unions were present in full force, understanding the struggle as a shared one, and many of the other French activists who joined the struggle either labeled themselves as Marxists or communists, understanding this as part of the class struggle. The sans-papiers' own literature identifies them as autonomous but in solidarity with a broader movement of opposition to "neoliberalism," such as that represented at European Social Forums (McNevin 2006); here, neoliberalism is taken to mean a set of economic policies favoring marketization and moving the locus of government outside the state. As the former sans-papiers spokeswoman Madiguène Cissé told me, explaining her own role in the process, she felt it was essential to organize on the European level because of the 1985 Schengen Agreement, which coordinated border control for the European Union. She and the French sans-papiers spearheaded a European-wide network for the rights of undocumented immigrants-other nascent movements in different nation-states looked to them to lead the way. She spoke of her role as a leader with the sans-papiers in Germany, for instance. She acknowledged that their struggle took place at the level of the global political economy; she explained that this was about North-South relations and about new forms of imperialism. That is, if the global North gets richer, it is at the expense of the global South, which produces the raw materials and absorbs the excesses of the global North. It is no wonder, then, that this has produced greater flows of migration out of the global South to escape the ever-growing poverty. As Cissé wrote, "We believe in the struggle, in Senegal and elsewhere, against structural adjustment programmes, and our struggle is one and the same struggle" (Cissé 1997, cited from News From Nowhere 2003:43).

If, as I am suggesting, the sans-papiers struggle should be understood as one against global capitalism and the economic reforms grouped under the heading "neoliberalism," and if labor rights figure high on the agenda of the human rights that they demand, we cannot ignore the echoes of the immigrant rights movements of the 1960s, which made similar claims yet explicitly linked capitalism to France's status as imperial power. I turn now to trace the connections with these earlier movements, which bring us face to face with France's status as a former imperial power and its current reality as a postcolonial state. This again proves to be both impetus and challenge for the sans-papiers movement.

Revealing a Postcolonial State

The "immigrant question" in France is grounded in post-World War II migrations from the French colonial empire. The postwar period of rapid economic expansion required cheap labor that could not be recruited in great enough numbers from the carefully selected "culturally compatible" European immigrants that France desired; there was stiff competition from other European countries. France's ties with its colonies-even as the empire was being dismantled by independence struggles-ensured that an influx of immigrants came from what was coming to be known as the third world; and in the 1950s and 1960s, mass migration from the colonies began to supplant European sources of labor. The single most important region of origin was North Africa: Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. By 1982 there were nearly 1.5 million immigrants from North Africa in France, with increasing numbers of immigrants from former sub-Saharan colonies, and Africans constituted 43 percent of the foreign population (Blatt 1997). The understanding in the 1960s and 1970s was that immigrants were purely migrant laborers who would eventually return to their countries of origin.

The sans-papiers movement not only challenges the inequalities of capitalism, but insists on a critical understanding of France as a postcolonial state, shaped both materially and ideologically by the histories and hierarchies of colonialism. The movement helped open the way to think about the colonial past and what Ann Stoler (2008) calls "the imperial debris" of the present. In the 1960s, in the immediate aftermath of decolonization, no link needed to be drawn between immigrants, labor, and colonialism; it was plain to see. May 1968 was a movement that recognized anti-imperialism as an essential part of the struggle against capitalism. But with the failure of May '68 to disrupt the social order in any meaningful way, the various connections to colonialism-"its material and social afterlife" (Stoler 2008:194)-were buried, even as the remnants have seeped out to shape the present in often unacknowledged ways. This process of erasing or forgetting the structures of the past was encouraged by the turn from the class-based struggles of the 1960s, where the typical actor was the Algerian worker-unskilled, a man without his family, a foreign national expecting to return eventually to Algeria (Wihtol de Wenden 1995)-to a politics of difference, which was ushered in by the new generation: the primary actors were the children of North African immigrants, the self-designated "Beurs." They mixed ideas of universalism and citizenship with references to ethnic identity and multiculturalism, and they focused on issues of racism and police harassment as well as community and cultural services. As sociologist Sylvie Tissot (2008) argues, the shift from a socioeconomic approach to an ethnoracial perspective resulted in the loss of the link to economic problems that profoundly shape immigrants' lives. From the perspective of the state, this new political language produced an understanding of immigrants and their children as the "dangerous classes," defined by unsurmountable cultural and religious differences. They were no longer people with rights to defend. In other words, the history and origins of their inequality were now viewed through the lens of cultural difference.

The sans-papiers forced this relationship between migrants, labor, and colonial history into the visible present once again, albeit in its new, reconfigured form. As Madiguène Cissé explained when asked where the sans-papiers of Saint Bernard come from: "Where do we come from, we Sans-Papiers of Saint-Bernard? It is a question we are often asked, and a pertinent one. We didn't immediately realize ourselves how relevant this question was. But, as soon as we tried to carry out a 'site inspection,' the answer was very illuminating: we are all from former French colonies, most of us from West-African countries, Mali, Senegal, Guinea and Mauritania. But there are also among us several Maghreb people (Tunisians, Moroccans, and Algerians); there is one man from Zaire and a couple who are Haitians" (Cissé 1997, cited from Notes from Nowhere 2003:1).

The postcolonial history haunting the sans-papiers' predicament was rendered explicit through the evocation of their parents' service in wars to save France, their motherland. Ababacar Diop, another key spokesperson for the sans-papiers, and also of Senegalese origin like Cissé, claimed in reference to these soldiers, "This sacrifice, willingly undertaken by foreigners to defend the land of the 'rights of man and of the citizen' must be remembered. To those tempted to blame us for all the degradation of suburban public housing projects, we answer that our grandparents lived in much worse socio-economic conditions when they helped fight and defeat France's enemies" (1997b:2).

Not only did the sans-papiers evoke their service and hence France's debt to them, but as those familiar with France's civilizing mission, and its universalist language, the sans-papiers played on the notion of France as home to human rights in order to hold the French state accountable. As Diop stated, "We needed to reaffirm not only our attachment to France as the fabled land of refuge and human rights, but also our determination that the authorities should take account of our aspiration to live in France in dignity and equality" (1997b:2). The sans-papiers claim to human rights, then, was simultaneously a nationalist strategy, daring France to live up to its own self-image; a transnational claim, appealing to an international community to hold France accountable for its violations; and a postcolonial evocation of the sans-papiers' intimate knowledge and relationship with their former motherland.

While France's colonial history has grown into a troubled present, with increasing unrest in the banlieues, a violent backlash against Islam that Vincent Geisser (2003) has called "islamophobie," and an everyday form of racialized policing, the particular and uneven role of France's colonial past in shaping its racialized present has been-until recently, with an explosion of academic interest in the topic-selectively ignored, suppressed, or rendered invisible. Stoler (2001, 2011) calls this a "colonial aphasia," an occlusion of knowledge, a disremembering or a difficulty speaking about the relationship between empire and immigration, race and nation. This aphasia has resulted in misrecognitions, locating the idea of race inside metropolitan France as an aftermath of empire rather than an integral part of what made France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and thus central to what it means to be "foreign" or French in France today. Crucially, Stoler argues that such colonial aphasia obscures how the "interior frontiers" of the nation-state have been tied to its "exterior" ones. In a similar manner, Laurent Dubois finds it necessary to point out that, from its inception, French universalism was a complex mix of inclusion and exclusion, such that while everyone was theoretically equal, certain people were deemed "not ready" for citizenship; this argument served to justify slavery in the Caribbean. He calls this deferral of the application of universal ideas "Republican racism" and suggests that it haunts contemporary discussions around immigration in France (Dubois 2008:18). The recent surge in French scholarship engaging colonial history and postcolonial studies takes on the idea that French colonial history is a vital foundation for an engagement with contemporary debates about race, immigration, and national identity in France. However, as Stoler (2011) points out, it does so without necessarily tackling the complicated relationship of French scholars to this history, for whom it has been selectively available and out of reach.

Clearly, not all sans-papiers in France come from former colonies. One notable exception in the earlier years of the sans-papiers movement was the "third collective," composed of Chinese sans-papiers. After the occupation of Saint Bernard and the regularization of some of the Africans who occupied the church, they spoke out about work conditions of "semislavery" and their lives in "prisons without bars," breaking a code of silence in the Chinese community; they subsequently formed several collectives that made demands for papers (see Les Chinois de France n.d.). Yet the history of colonialism is of primary relevance for them, too, insofar as it has helped to structure French society; those who come from places such as China or Sri Lanka still enter into a system of racial hierarchies sharpened in the history of empire. These inform where people can and do "choose" to live, and they shape the contemporary practices and logics of security, which require segregation and confinement for certain racialized populations (Stoler 2011); certainly, these practices are of concern to all sans-papiers today.

The fact that the French state has not faced the injury of colonialism head-on means, again, that the predicament of the sans-papiers cannot be recognized and addressed in its complexity. While I am not suggesting that the varied situations of the sans-papiers are determined in any easy or straightforward way by colonial histories, I do want to suggest that they must be understood as part of the "ruins" of the imperial project on which France is built-with inequality, racism, and exploitation at its base. As scholars of the colonial and postcolonial have argued, the modern French state was constituted by and through its colonies-the colonies were at once the experiment for modernity (Rabinow 1995) and the ground on which the categories of race, nation, and citizenship were determined (Stoler 1995, 1997; Silverman 1992; Dubois 2000; Conklin 1997, 2000; Lebovics 1992; Lorcin 1995; Shepard 2006). The separation of colonial bodies is what enabled the production of the French body and the French nation.

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the French state has put enormous energy into reformulating the colonial narrative to both recognize and tame it, and to avoid accountability. Two years after the 2005 riots, which brought the history of colonial law into the present through the enactment of the original 1955 law on states of emergency, Sarkozy gave a speech in Dakar to "the youth of Africa," which at once acknowledged France's colonial past and yet unabashedly repeated the underlying tropes of the civilizing mission: that Africa and Africans were backward, uncivilized, outside of history. Sarkozy began his speech with acknowledgments such as, "The colonizer came, he took, he helped himself, he exploited. He pillaged resources and wealth that did not belong to him. He stripped the colonized of his personality, of his liberty, of his land, of the fruit of his labor." But then he quickly retreated from taking responsibility for this violence by saying, "The colonizer took, but I want to say with respect, that he also gave. He built bridges, roads, hospitals, dispensaries and schools. He turned virgin soil fertile. He gave of his effort, his work, his know-how." From there, his speech descended into themes drawn from what Mbembe (2007) aptly calls "a colonial and racist library." A few words are sufficient to show that Sarkozy's approach to Africa is one that dates from the nineteenth century, taken almost word for word from G.W.F Hegel's Reason in History: "The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully emerged into history. ... In this imaginary world where everything starts over and over again there is no place for human adventure or for the idea of progress. In this universe where nature commands all, man escapes from the anguish of history that torments man, but he rests immobile in the center of a static order where everything seems to be written beforehand" (Sarkozy 2007).

Many African intellectuals, writers, and politicians spoke back and expressed how the new French ruling elites "were trapped in a frivolous and exotic vision of the continent" (Mbembe 2007) that revealed both their fears and fantasies of Africa as an ahistoric, undeveloped world, beholden to nature rather than history, and the cause of its own present misfortunes. While many found Sarkozy's words shocking and violent, they reveal only too clearly France's attitude to its colonial past, which, while riddled with contradictions-both making a show out of acknowledging the injury and simultaneously repeating it-ultimately refuses accountability. Rather, as historian Mamadou Diouf states, it assumes the arrogance and contempt of the master for his slave-taking the liberty of both defining and reprimanding the slave (Ndoye 2007, interview with Diouf).

In another speech a few months later in December 2007, Sarkozy began a three-day visit to Algeria by denouncing colonialism as "profoundly unjust," but he again avoided apologizing for the violent crimes the French are accused of committing during the period of French rule from 1830 to 1962, and particularly during the bloody war of independence from 1954 to 1962 (see New York Times 2007). This approach fluctuates between trying to erect firm borders between France and its former colonies, assuming colonialism is a thing of the past, and acting as if the French metropole and its former colonies are still part of one political space. For instance, when he was interior minister, Sarkozy made several visits to African countries such as Mali and Benin to discuss issues of immigration and security and to promote his new, highly restrictive immigration bill. (He was greeted with people shouting, "Racist, go home." Mali is the sub-Saharan African nation-state with the highest number of immigrants in France, but only half of them have papers.) On the one hand, he was there to demarcate the borders of France (and French responsibility) from Africa. On the other hand, the underlying message of his visit was that the French empire was intact: in most other contexts, it would have been the foreign minister who went to meet with high-ranking officials in a foreign country, not the minister responsible for domestic affairs.

In the face of these contradictory French policies, there have been new social movements cropping up since 2005 to fight for recognition of the relationship between immigration, racism, sexual violence, and colonialism. Groups like Les Indigènes de la République and Le Collectif Féministe pour l'Égalité have put out calls to women who experience racist and sexist violence to come together to form an indigenous, anti-imperialist feminism, one that recognizes the imperial legacy of contemporary French political formations. Les Indigènes de la République's first public statement in January 2005 begins, "Discriminated against in employment, housing, health, school and leisure, people whose origins lie in the colonies, former or current, and in post-colonial immigration are the first victims of social exclusion and precariousness. Independent of their real origins, these populations from the vulnerable neighborhoods are indigenized, relegated to the margins of society" (Mouvement des Indigènes de la République 2005, my translation). With these statements and their actions, they are rewriting the accepted links between past and present, and between groups of people, joining those not previously imagined as part of one narrative. While I was in Paris in May 2008, I witnessed their marche antiraciste et décoloniale (antiracist and decolonizing march) as I was walking through the largely immigrant 18th arrondissement, past Montmartre. What struck me most were the protesters' signs, invoking the legacies of diverse figures such as Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Zapata, Nelson Mandela, James Baldwin, Aimé Césaire, Angela Davis, and Jean Genet (see figure 3). While the rest of the march felt very familiar to me, an echo of the many marches I participated in with the sans-papiers, this transnational, multigenerational legacy of oppression was not one that I had seen invoked before. These protesters were laying claim to the visions of leaders who had fought the legacies of colonialism, and they were marching for all those whose lives have been affected by this history-the sans-papiers included.

[Figure 3]

That said, Les Indigènes de la République are far from popular; they have been critiqued and outcast by mainstream Franco-French feminist groups and by many on the political and academic Left. All indications show that the French state and much of the French public are still not ready to claim responsibility for the migration patterns and racial formations that issue from the colonial restructuring of the global landscape. There is still a difficulty acknowledging that the very concept of French citizenship-which depends on exclusion as much as inclusion in its universalist principles-cannot be divorced from the exploitation of labor and resources that happened in the colonies and by the racialization of this process. The sans-papiers movement, then, is both borne of and circumscribed by this enduring public secret.

The Challenges of Law and Sovereignty

In addition to the challenges of contemporary capitalism and the history of colonialism, the sans-papiers movement has been shaped by changes in the nature of sovereignty. These changes have already been well-documented and analyzed theoretically-in particular, the tension between national and transnational sovereignty and a tension between state and popular sovereignty (Balibar 2004; Ong 1999; Sassen 1996, 2006). I want to point to some of the specific manifestations of the changes in sovereignty and law in France when I was there and the resulting types of insecurity.

European integration gives concrete form to the tension between sovereignty at the national and transnational levels and to the way people actually experience this as instability. The Single European Act of 1986 first instituted a common European space without trade borders. This was then integrated into the Maastricht Treaty, which envisaged a common space without internal borders in which goods and capital could circulate. Creating a common space, however, raised the question of the circulation of people who were not European Union nationals; in other words, the question became how to control the movement of certain people in a space with no borders. The tension was one of free circulation for some and not others and the coordination of national legislation, which controls borders, with European legislation, which opens national borders.

The Schengen Agreement was created for this purpose in 1985-to reconcile the opening of borders to capital with security concerns about people. It helped enable the movement of capital and the control of people, with a coordination of border controls and policing. But it is important to note that the Schengen space does not map directly onto the European Union: while the EU adopted the Schengen Agreement as part of EU law in 1999, certain states opted out of parts of the agreement, such as the United Kingdom and Ireland; on the other hand, non-EU members such as Norway and Iceland opted in. The agreement was thus accompanied by a series of different statuses for (a) members of the Schengen states, (b) EU citizens from non-Schengen states, (c) non-EU citizens who are residents in a Schengen state, and (d) non-EU, non-Schengen citizens. Not only does this system of differential status challenge key aspects of the French republican ideology, which refuses to distinguish between people on the basis of nationality, but it has led to a broader anxiety about how to control and patrol space. For instance, it is impossible to distinguish between citizens, residents, or Schengen members simply by looking at them-it is impossible to know whom to check at borders. The uncertainty has resulted in racial profiling and, in general, increased policing and increasingly harsh immigration policies and controls (Rodier 1997; Hollifield 1994). One example of this in France was the creation, in 1994, of a commission within the Ministry of Interior with enormous police powers over entry, residence, and employment. It was the first time an institution had been created with the sole purpose of policing immigration, and it became responsible for coordinating all activities of the national police force against undocumented immigration (Samers 2003).

In this climate of insecurity, the harmonization of immigration and refugee policies in Europe was proposed to avoid the negative effects of the policies of member states on each other. This issue has taken tentative shape through the Treaty of Amsterdam (which entered into force May 1, 1999). This treaty gave the European Union responsibility to introduce a Common Immigration and Asylum System-also a priority of the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force December 2009-but this common system has yet to be realized. Harmonization touches on the most sensitive questions of national sovereignty: borders and policing. In this sense, member states have been loathe to touch these issues. Thus, while the European Parliament and European Commission should be more involved in this process, their roles have proved to be largely symbolic; their positions are taken into consideration but most often elicit antagonism. In the absence of democratic procedures at the European Community or national level, it has been the governments who decide among themselves on the general contours of migration control. Thus, while there is some secondary European law to harmonize immigration and asylum policies, largely instituted since 2004, earlier decisions were coded through "resolutions," "recommendations," or "position papers," none of which have clear legal grounding and do not formally link states. The European Parliament earlier called this "pseudo-legislation" that "leaves much to be desired" (Rodier 1997:229-30). The resulting policies have taken the lowest common denominator of the EU member states, sidelining questions raised by the European Commission about the equal right to freedom of movement. Instead, uncertainty has led intergovernmental cooperation to privilege policing as the way to manage migration flows. Jurist Claire Rodier (1997) suggests that, paradoxically, not involving EU institutions has led to the increasing autonomy of the politics of immigration; while escaping democratic controls by these institutions, the pseudo-legislation of immigration does not always follow the desired outcome of the member states. This has increased the situation of instability and insecurity.

These conflicting drives to establish sovereignty at the national or transnational level, illustrated by the process of European integration, do not undo the rule of law, but they blur its boundaries, creating partial or graduated legal regimes, which have led to legal voids for many. In other words, it is no longer clear who can claim to be a subject of the law, or which law one should claim to be a subject of. It requires a body of new laws, policies, mechanisms, and institutions that are still in formation. This uncertainty is felt by EU citizens and residents at all levels: where and how they can travel; their status at home and abroad (and the meaning of "abroad"); where they can find employment; where, when, and on what to vote. This same inability to ascertain one's status is particularly true for immigrants and refugees in Europe. As just one example of this, immigration law falls under European jurisdiction, while citizenship is still the prerogative of the nation-state. There is no clear or circumscribed juridical realm-there are overlapping realms, accompanied by legal voids.

I had my own experience of this legal uncertainty. I had asked for a research visa while a graduate student at Stanford in California, and I was told by the French embassy to ask in Canada since I am a Canadian citizen. When I arrived in Montreal en route to Paris, the French embassy told me that because I was a student at an American university, I should apply in San Francisco. It was too late; I already had a ticket and was on my way to Paris, so my only option was to enter on a tourist visa. The tourist visas allow stays of three months, after which one must leave the country. One is free to return after that, although how many times, no one could tell me. I also did not know what constituted leaving the country; what with the European Union, did it mean leaving the EU or just France? Did it mean going outside the Schengen space-and since Britain had opted out of it, did it mean I could just go to London on the Eurostar, through the Channel Tunnel? Did I need to return to Canada, or to the United States? Could I keep coming back indefinitely, as long as I left whatever constituted the French space every three months? No one could answer all these questions. This is just one small example of the spaces of juridical indeterminacy that help ground the new emphasis on regimes of care, which are less reliant on law than on moral legitimacy.

I end with the words of the interior minister at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, to reveal the clear anxiety around sovereignty. In a statement on the sans-papiers published in January 2003 in the French national newspaper, Le Monde, Sarkozy explicitly blamed the European Union for the problem of illegal immigration in France (Le Monde 2003). He stated that the large number of short-term visas delivered by member countries of the European Union was the origin of illegal immigration, constituting an overturning of procedure. For instance, he explained that visas for Algerians had increased from 48,000 in 1996 to 277,000 in 2001. To solve the "problem" of illegal immigration, he claimed that France needed to take control over its own visas and should encourage other EU members to do the same. His statement is a call for a reestablishment of sovereign power at the national level and, when this proves infeasible, for the coordination between EU partners on a common policed border that will keep immigrants out. In other words, it admits to a reconfigured notion of sovereignty, one that leaves many gaps and uncertainties; and these gaps and uncertainties form the groundwork for the new and shifting forms of government.


It is in the context of the challenges of global capitalism, the "ruins" (Stoler 2008) of colonialism, and a fluctuating system of law and sovereignty that the sans-papiers struggle must be understood. These factors provide the drive to migrate, and they simultaneously make it nearly impossible to live in conditions that are nonexploitative or nondiscriminatory. In this sense, they create the conditions for political struggle, and yet they also circumscribe it. This context is critical in order to understand the growth of regimes of care; for one, regimes of care allow us to ignore painful histories, entrenched inequalities, and our complicity in these by blocking out all but the present.

These challenges help explain why the group of primarily African men who participated in weekly marches around the statue at the Place du Châtelet in the center of Paris, chanting "papers for all," were seen as a tourist curiosity rather than as people who live in conditions where exploitation and violence are part of daily life. I joined these sans-papiers in demonstrating several times-they were there every week without fail-and I remember thinking that anywhere else we would be noticed, we would disrupt public space. Instead, the chants were recuperated into a narrative about exotic African rhythms as they sang and played the drums. Even while in the center of Paris, the sans-papiers were effectively out of sight-invisible to the state for whom they do not officially exist, invisible to the public except in their occasional eruptions into the space of Paris proper with demonstrations that are quickly quashed or subdued. I realized, gradually, that they had become more visible in another guise: as suffering bodies, as victims. That is, they were more visible to the state and to the public in their suffering and thus less visible as political actors, both in the sense of a threatening or potentially liberatory mass and as individuals with pasts and futures-individuals who imagine and desire. I turn in the next chapter to the development of the politics of care and its central figure of the morally legitimate suffering body, focusing on the "new humanitarianism."