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France’s Immigration Law Struck Down in Parts by Constitutional Council


France’s Constitutional Council struck down large chunks of a tough new immigration law on Thursday, in a widely expected ruling that said many measures that were added by President Emmanuel Macron’s government under right-wing pressure were unlawful.

The nine-member council, which reviews legislation to ensure that it conforms to the Constitution, said in a statement that it had partially or completely struck down over a third of the 86 articles in the law, which was passed in December — including restrictions on foreigners’ access to government subsidies, limitations on the reunification of migrant families and the creation of yearly immigration quotas set by Parliament.

Overhauling France’s immigration rules was one of Mr. Macron’s second-term priorities, and under ordinary circumstances, the council’s decision could be seen as a stinging rebuke. The French leader had called the new law a necessary “shield” to deal with the pressure of migrants illegally entering the country.

But because of the way the law came to pass and the nature of the measures that were rejected, Thursday’s ruling may paradoxically give Mr. Macron some relief.

Gérald Darmanin, Mr. Macron’s interior minister, welcomed the ruling, saying it had left intact the heart of the law. “Never before has a law provided so many means for deporting criminals and so many requirements for integrating foreigners!” he said on social media.

Many of the measures struck down by the council had been included in the law only after the government reached a compromise with the Republicans, the mainstream right-wing opposition party. The deal was needed to get the bill through the lower house of Parliament, where Mr. Macron’s party and its centrist allies do not hold an absolute majority.

The compromise handed Mr. Macron a legislative victory but introduced many hard-line measures that were not part of his government’s original plans. It also attracted the unwanted support of the far-right National Rally party and caused cracks in Mr. Macron’s centrist governing coalition, with some of his own lawmakers voting against the bill.

France’s interior minister, its prime minister and even Mr. Macron himself were left in the awkward position of publicly acknowledging that they disagreed with some of the measures — like a rule forcing foreign students from outside the European Union to pay a new deposit fee — or, worse, that parts of a law that they had championed probably violated the Constitution.

At a wide-ranging news conference this month, Mr. Macron argued that an imperfect deal was better than none. “Was this part of the compromise that was needed, with a relative majority, to move forward?” he said. “Yes.”

Opponents accused the government of pushing through measures that it knew would not pass muster with the Constitutional Council purely to score political points.

“Has one ever seen a president of the Republic and ministers explain that they do not respect the rule of law?” Mathilde Panot, a top lawmaker for the leftist France Unbowed party, said on LCI television on Thursday.

Laurent Fabius, the president of the Constitutional Council, also expressed frustration this month, saying that there was “a certain confusion among some people between law and politics.”

“Mr. President, the Constitutional Council is not an echo chamber for trends in public opinion, nor is it a chamber of appeal for the choices made by Parliament,” Mr. Fabius said in a speech at which Mr. Macron was present. “It judges the constitutionality of laws.”

Around France, thousands marched last week to protest against the immigration bill, and more demonstrations were held on Thursday ahead of the council’s ruling.

Unlike the Supreme Court in the United States, the Constitutional Council is not at the top of the court system in France, and none of its members are judges. Instead, they are a mix of legal experts, former politicians and high-ranking civil servants.

Governments usually hope that the council will leave their legislation mostly untouched, as was the case last year, when it upheld the core of Mr. Macron’s highly unpopular pension overhaul.

Mr. Macron’s government had initially presented its immigration bill as both a carrot and a stick that would streamline a sluggish asylum process and facilitate the deportation of migrants who are in France illegally while also facilitating integration. The measure, for instance, created temporary residency permits for foreign workers in fields experiencing labor shortages.

But the compromise with the right-wing Republicans had gnawed away most of the carrot and made the stick much bigger, even including snippets of many longstanding far-right stances on immigration.

These included delaying foreigners’ access to state subsidies like housing aid or family allowances for several months or even years; toughening family reunification rules for immigrants; and forcing children born to foreigners in France to request French citizenship upon reaching adulthood, rather than having it granted automatically.

Many of those measures were struck down by the council, bringing the law roughly back to what Mr. Macron’s government had initially intended.

In a statement on social media, Jordan Bardella, the head of the far-right National Rally party, called the ruling a “power grab” by the council and reiterated longstanding requests on the right and far right for a nationwide referendum on immigration.

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