After I moved just over the Paris city limit to Pantinwrote the New York Times' Mira Kamdar a few months prior to the November attacks,
I realized my status as a foreigner in France had changed. In leaving Paris for the banlieue, I had ceased to be an American expatriate, and became just another immigrant in France.
… The immigrant’s life also means dealing with France’s bureaucratic maze. Police prefectures handle immigration matters here. In Paris, Americans — and foreigners from a few other countries — are sent to a room upstairs. There, I had taken a number and within a half-hour was sitting before an administrator’s desk. Downstairs, a room crowded with people, most of whom appeared to be from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb, waited for their turn at a stand-up window. I now have some idea what they went through.
… Many of the foreigners at the Bobigny prefecture are from former French colonies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb. In seeking legal residency, they are asking for official recognition of their existence in France.
Most foreigners begin with a one-year permit. In principle, you are eligible for a 10-year permit after five years, and may also be eligible to apply for citizenship. In practice, many people must renew their residency permit every year, a humiliating exercise that makes it nearly impossible to do things that would actually help them integrate into French society, like getting a permanent job or applying for credit.
The real problem is France’s attitude toward immigrants. …