2000!?!? WTF!? How did I miss this? I need to play some catch up.

I came across an article in El Pais, mentioning this group of 2000 or so”sans-papiers” (without-papers) who have occupied a large building in the Rue Baudelique in Paris’s 18th arrondissement. I hadn’t heard anything about it, so I went ‘agoogling. And found this nice summary of events in the New York Times:

The immigrants began arriving in the Rue Baudelique on July 17. About 1,200 came en masse from an administrative building near the Place de la République. A yearlong occupation there won 126 residency permits, renewable annually — a typically modest success, organizers conceded, but a success nonetheless. Only one man was deported, and he has reportedly made his way back to Paris.

At the new camp, one or two sans-papiers receive residency permits every day, organizers said. Word of their success has spread, and immigrants have been flocking to the Rue Baudelique from across the Paris region: since mid-July, an additional 800 or so have arrived, according to organizers.

There’s a video report here, sorry it’s in French with no subtitles, but you can at least get a sense of what this giant warehouse community is like.

But they’re not just congregating, they are working purposefully to be visible, vocal, and active, breaking away from the hidden life in which they are often exploited and therefore made to feel helpless and passive. From the NYTimes article:

They march every Wednesday, distributing fliers, hanging banners and hoping to rally public support as they petition the state for legal status. It is a gamble, though, a knowing admission of guilt: they are seemingly flirting with deportation.

Despite the apparent risk, they seem to be developing a very smart strategy – and quite an old one – safety in number. Since public opinion, while harsh on immigration, isn’t keen on police crackdowns either (oh those wacky French!), it’s like playing a game of chicken with the authorities, which the sans-papiers seem to be winning so far.

“It is a bit surprising,” [Djibril Diaby, an immigrant from Senegal] admitted. But, paradoxically, it is their very visibility that seems to protect them.

“They can do identity checks in the street, stop people in the street,” he said, referring to the police, who routinely detain lone sans-papiers. “Mass arrests, the French are not ready for that. French national opinion wouldn’t accept it, and the government knows this.”

Too bad the same can’t be said of US public opinion, so such demonstrations of solidarity are probably not a good idea at home. But it is encouraging to see this kind of show of strength, in a non-threatening way, (not disturbing the neighbors) take hold.

As for the article in El Pais, (¿Que hay detras de los sin-papeles?) it’s by Ulrich Beck, an economist at the London School of Economics, though it seems to only be published in Spanish, can’t find an English version.

Beck also describes their awareness-raising activities, and points out the contradiction in a populace that wants to crack down on illegals but also resists brute police force used against people staging, for example, strikes. He also points out the point of pride many French people feel in often being considered the cradle of human rights. (You remember The Declaration of the Rights of Man, right? You know, you read about it in 10th grade history). They’re not friendly to the idea of a police state, in principle at least.

I’m gonna try to translate a bunch of the article in a separate post (always good practice) but here’s a little line I liked:

We have to learn that however different and distant from ourselves people of another skin color, nationality or religion may seem, we are under the obligation to live with and work with these “others” in order to survive in this world of corruption, suffering and exploitation.

Key word: World. Not “this nation”. This world. Because corruption, suffering and exploitation know no borders, and neither should our willingness to help people escape them.

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