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Paris Spider-Man Spurs Discussion on French Immigration Policy

The decision made by French President Emmanuel Macron to grant citizenship to an undocumented Malian immigrant created both praise and criticism in France.

Mamoudou Gassama saved a four-year-old boy hanging from a fourth-floor in the 18th arrondissement of Paris on Saturday, May 25, which resulted in him receiving a job as a firefighter, an offer of French citizenship, and praise from both President Macron and Paris’ mayor Anne Hidalgo. President Macron invited Mr. Gassama to apply for French citizenship, “because France is built on desire, and Mr. Gassama’s commitment clearly showed that he has that desire.” However, many argue that not all migrants receive the same treatment as him, and it is important to highlight the voiceless millions who have the same desire for the French nationality.

The argument concerning the grant of citizenship to simply one person is brought to light by Bloomberg in an article entitled “The Spider-Man of Paris is Just One of Many,” published on May 29. Mamoudou Gassama is “pretty much the worst kind of immigrant as far as European populists […] are concerned,” writes Leonid Bershidsky. “He’s rural, uneducated and unqualified.”

Nicknamed “Spider-Man” in the media, Gassama became a beacon of hope for the Malian migrant population in France. Many of the 76,700 Malians residing in France, argues Bloomberg, show qualifications for heroic acts that would grant them citizenship. “Those who make the journey are often extremely resourceful people [and] deserve recognition for their near gladiatorial achievement.”

The New York Times notes that some human rights activists “criticized the government as hypocritical for praising Mr. Gassama while pushing to deport others like him.” Indeed, Gassama’s appraisal comes shortly after France passed a new immigration law making it stricter for immigrants to appeal expulsion decisions after they are deported, and raising the period illegal immigrants can be detained to 90 days.

The rise of anti-migrant rhetoric has encapsulated public policy in an increasingly populist Europe. “If France is about a set of values and ideals, then people who demonstrate adherence to them should be recognized as French,” concludes Bloomberg. Granting an opportunity for these immigrants to have a “clear path to legal residency” would give governments “better-integrated immigrant communities.”

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