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Articles thématiques

Im/migration: Family Strategies and Access to Rights

Stratégies familiales et accès aux droits en contexte migratoire
Estrategias familiares y acceso a derechos en un contexto migratorio
Catherine Delcroix, Josiane Le Gall et Elise Pape
Cet article est une traduction de :
Stratégies familiales et accès aux droits en contexte migratoire [fr]

Résumés

Objectifs : Ce numéro de revue a pour objectif d’étudier la manière dont « faire famille » influence l’accès aux droits et l’insertion de familles migrantes en Europe (France, Allemagne), en Amérique du Nord (Québec) et à Djibouti, depuis le Yémen, la Syrie, la Tunisie, le Mozambique ou le Brésil. De même, et réciproquement, il s’intéresse à l’impact du droit sur les expériences familiales en contexte migratoire.

Méthodologie : L’approche par l’observation ethnographique, par le recueil croisé de récits de vie et la reconstitution des contextes de vie de ces migrant-e-s (dans le respect de leurs paroles et de leur anonymat) permet de découvrir parfois de manière contre-intuitive les effets des politiques dans leur vie.

Résultats : Il arrive souvent qu’au sein d’une même famille migrante les statuts juridiques de ses membres soient différents, et donc leurs droits à être ou non régularisés. Il en découle un travail important que ces familles - et plus largement, des groupes entiers de migrants - doivent mener en termes d’information pour l’accès aux droits de séjour, de travail, d’accès à la scolarité pour leurs enfants, à la santé, à la nationalité, etc. Rien ne leur est garanti a priori.

Conclusions : Nous pouvons imaginer combien les migrations se poursuivront à l’aune des changements climatiques et des troubles politiques jamais interrompus à travers l’histoire. Gageons que l’approche par l’évaluation des politiques ou de leur absence, faite par les personnes concernées, sera de plus en plus nécessaire à l’avenir.

Contribution : Ce numéro thématique de la revue Enfances Familles Générations met en évidence à partir d’une approche historique et comparative l’impact de la légitimité à faire partie de la communauté nationale où ces hommes et ces femmes ont migré (Destremau, 2022).

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Notes de la rédaction

The article was translated by Valentina Baslyk.

Texte intégral

This issue was produced with the support of the Franco-German University, the Institut Convergences Migrations, the University of Strasbourg and the “Dynamiques Européennes” (DynamE) CNRS/UNISTRA laboratory.

1The issue focuses on how “family formation” (“faire famille”) influences access to rights and the integration of families from Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Mozambique and Brazil who immigrate to Europe (France, Germany), North America (Quebec) and Djibouti. It also looks at how the law impacts family experiences in the context of migration. The family plays a central role in the migration process (Kofman, 2004), particularly in the actual decision to emigrate, even when only one person is emigrating (Gültekin et al., 2003; Attias-Donfut, 2009). The family plays an equally vital role in integration and sometimes in obtaining residence permits (Vatz-Laaroussi, 2009; Menjivar et al., 2016). Today, family reunion represents one of the major immigration options in a number of countries, particularly in Europe and North America. In France, 39% of residence permits granted were for family reunion in 2016 (Héran, 2017), while in Quebec, where labour immigration predominates, this type of residence permit represented 23% in 2017 (Gouvernement du Québec, 2018).

2Legal measures in various areas of life shape the family experiences of migrants with different migration statuses and backgrounds: seasonal workers, highly skilled migrant workers, bi-national couples (and their children), foreign students, migrants with health problems or disabilities, unaccompanied minors, refugees and asylum seekers.

3In certain countries, persons denied asylum have minimal rights. In France, for example, they do not have the right to claim unemployment benefits, to employment, or to take language courses offered by public services. However, they are not without rights, even when forced to leave the country. For instance, they have the right to access the healthcare system through state medical care (Aide Médicale d'État), the right (or obligation) to send their children under the age of 16 to school, and the right to emergency accommodation. In addition, members of the same family may have different rights, depending on their age. To illustrate: since the mid-2010s the municipality of Strasbourg (France) has developed a local policy aimed at immigrant families with “incomplete rights” (“ménages à droits incomplets” or MDI) (Pape et al., 2019; Delcroix et al., 2021; Delcroix and Inowlocki, 2021). This policy stems from the rights of certain family members (such as children who must go to school) to gradually supplement those of others. Since the Valls Circular of 2012, parents can apply for regularization if they have been living in France for at least five years and have children who have been going to school in France for at least three years. While this local policy is particularly innovative in the context of public policy, the fact that different members of the same family do not all have the same rights is nothing new. In fact, it is a common experience for foreigners who have been living in France from the 1950s to the present day (Cohen, 2012; Fogel, 2017), which has often facilitated their integration and served to regularize their situation.

4Depending on the current legal statutes of various countries, not all migrants have access to the same services, which can impact the living conditions and health of members of the same family. In some countries, being undocumented can be a significant obstacle to accessing healthcare. In Quebec, pregnant women with precarious immigration status (including those without regularized immigration documents) face barriers to accessing perinatal care. Moreover, these women underutilize health services during pregnancy and childbirth due to a lack of medical coverage and their inability to pay the fees charged for care and services. In addition, the lack of legal status fosters institutional invisibility, making these women even more vulnerable (Ricard-Guay et al., 2014). For couples formed in immigration contexts, such as transnational marriages or mail-order brides, sponsorship or marital reunion may sometimes be the only options available for spouses of citizens to obtain legal status (Fernandez, 2019). In Canada, this is a long process, and the state can sometimes even question the legitimacy of the marital relationship (Gaucher, 2018). Legal and administrative obstacles to reunion threaten the viability of these relationships (Geoffrion, 2018; Bernier, 2020). Research on transnational families shows how the conditions that force family members to live in different countries can create new opportunities, or can be sources of conflict between them (Erel, 2002; Dreby and Adkins, 2010; Miranda, 2014; Poeze and Mazzucato, 2016).

5By analyzing the various pathways available for regular and irregular migrants (Laacher, 2007) and their children, this issue explores the law’s impact on the experiences of people who migrate. This involves their understanding of both the limitations and the opportunities that the law imposes/permits in terms of freedom of movement and the options for the integration or reunion/creation of a family. These are discussed in the medium and long term, in the context of one or more countries of settlement.

6Informed by an interdisciplinary approach, this issue focuses on the following questions: how do practical realities of “the family” help or make it more challenging to gain access to the law (Fogel, 2017)? How does the law (e.g., regulations related to immigration, family reunion, access to the labour market, school, or the healthcare system) (re)shape intergenerational relationships within migrant families? To what extent does the law influence gender relations in a family setting? How do migrants obtain legal information concerning central aspects of their lives, such as reuniting their families and gaining access to housing? What naturalization possibilities exist in different countries, and how do they affect the trajectories of migrants and their children? What strategies do migrants implement to adapt themselves to their new circumstances, and to circumvent or even to change the law (Têtu-Delage, 2009; Declercq and Jamoulle, 2016)? How do the transnational ties with family members living in their country of origin or other countries of settlement affect their access to the law and their integration? Concerning the rights of migrant families to access the law, what historical and contemporary developments can be seen in Europe, North America or elsewhere, at municipal, regional, national or continental levels? How do the experiences of migrants allow us to question the opposition often made between “legal” and “illegal?”

7As Blandine Destremau rightly points out (2022):

Who has rights and in what capacity? This question leads to distinctions between citizens’ rights, workers’ rights, and universal human rights. These can be further broken down into categories: the rights of children, women, older people and the disabled. In many ways, the rights of those suspected of deviant behaviour, moral failings, or actions unacceptable by the national body are more difficult to defend politically: moral hierarchies justify inequalities in the way lives are valued and people are treated (Fassin, 2020). The rights of workers emanate essentially from contractual provisions, the rights of citizens are based on policy, and the rights of certain categories of people stem from their vulnerability. The rights of these “others” who are migrants (outside the European Union), on the other hand, seem to be based primarily on moral standards tainted with illegitimacy, and which promote a process, even a government, that is essentially humanitarian and discretionary. (Excerpt from the presentation titled “L’accès aux droits : de quels droits s’agit-il?” (Access to rights: what rights are we talking about?) by Blandine Destremau, at the INTEGER department of the Institut Convergences Migrations, November 3, 2022, as part of the seminar titled Fécondité heuristique de séances d’analyse collective d’entretiens pour la connaissance des phénomènes migratoires (Heuristic fruitfulness of group analysis interviews for the understanding of migratory phenomena) (see also Destremau 2008; 2009.)

8These topics are dealt with in this issue through a common methodology: biographical policy evaluation (Apitzsch et al., 2008; Delcroix, 2013a). Migrants and their descendants assess their experiences of the stages of their migration, their interactions with professionals, volunteers, and members of their networks, and the policies that concern them and that helped them or hindered their settlement.

9Drawing on a collection of intersecting narratives by members of the same immigrant family (as well as interviews with professionals who accompanied them), ethnographical observation and comparative analyses of political and historical contexts (over a relatively long period of up to 100 years), the authors shed light on how “family formation” takes place in different countries and continents.

10Following the trajectories of women, men and children over time makes it possible to understand the differing effects of fitting into prescribed legal categories, such as refugee, spouse in the context of family reunion, foreign student in a school setting, temporary worker, etc. In addition, this life course approach makes it possible to take into account the possible comings and goings of migrants between their country of settlement and their country of origin.

11This issue proposes that immigrant groups be observed in their presence on the internet, to promote the dissemination of information and mutual aid for reuniting families and to provide access to a mode of mobilization with a transnational focus.

12Biographical analyses explore and examine migration and integration processes by focusing on how they are formed, experienced and interpreted by the migrants themselves (Rosenthal, 2004; Delcroix, 2013b; Apitzsch and Siouti, 2014; Bertaux, 2016; Odasso, 2016; Pape, 2020). They provide a better understanding of how political, social, cultural and other contextual processes often become relevant in unexpected ways in the lives of migrants. They also make it possible to adopt innovative longitudinal perspectives, not only by following individual biographical trajectories over time, but by comparing migration experiences across historical periods and, most importantly, by exploring intergenerational dynamics through the experiences of various family members (Bertaux and Delcroix, 2000).

13The seven articles in this issue introduce readers to the dynamics of the processes created by the varied effects of access to rights experienced by immigrants and their children.

14First, Monica Schlobach shows the impact of transitioning from temporary to permanent status through the intersecting narratives of family members who came from Brazil to settle in Quebec. The father, a highly qualified executive, was initially hired for two years, and his transnational employer determined his status. When he and his family obtained the right to stay and work permanently in Quebec, his status was determined by Canadian and Quebec federal law.

15The French language – the basis of Quebec’s identity – made it difficult for the couple’s children to attend school. During the first two years, they attended a welcoming English language school as they were still “expatriates.” However, once their father obtained permanent residence status, the children were obliged to attend a French language school, which undermined their education. The author thus shows how obtaining permanent status paradoxically led to the children feeling like foreigners.

16On the other hand, their mother appreciated this stabilization of their status, which gave her the right to attend French language classes where she met other foreigners. Like her husband, she built a “cosmopolitan” identity based on multiple affiliations. This intergenerational approach provides a window for observing and evaluating the Quebec integration model.

17Liyun Wan explores the effects of migration on the schooling of the siblings of children of Syrian families who immigrated to France. Some of these Syrian families had relocated via the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), while others had left Syria many years ago, travelling through Lebanon and Turkey before arriving in France. The diversity of their profiles allows us to observe the resources these families employed to migrate, settle and integrate, thereby offering a multifaceted vision of Syrian refugees.

18The difficulties of gaining access to schools in Lebanon and Turkey and the contexts surrounding them are well described. The limitations of the French Unités Pédagogiques pour Élèves Allophones nouvellement arrivés (UPE2A) (Pedagogical Unit for non-French speaking and recently arrived students) are also well shown. The UPE2A course was designed to help newly arrived students learn French and integrate into school life. The students are assigned to a school for one or two years and meet for a few hours weekly. They learn the French language, but according to those interviewed, they do not learn enough about the history and functioning of French society. Thanks to their intertwining narratives, it becomes clear that the range of academic opportunities available to these students varies widely, based on their age and gender at the time of their stay in each place of transit. Counter-intuitively, the parents’ considerable cultural and social capital in their country of origin is not necessarily the factor that will help their children the most. When exile opens new doors in relation to previous living conditions (such as the status of women), passing on subjective resources that encourage children to strive for success is an asset.

19The focus of migration research tends to be adult-centric. This article develops a theme seldom addressed in the sociology of migration, namely the consequences of exile on children.

20In his contribution, Djamel Sellah draws on inter- and intra-generational narratives to better grasp their impact on the politics of families originally from North Africa who now reside in France. Sellah‘s approach is to decode the ordinary forms of the relationship to politics connected with the effects of the colonial past and of a series of migratory waves. These led to their members acquiring access to rights (residence, work, nationality, voting) that varied depending on when they arrived in France and the political context of the time. Thus, a parent and a child may not legally be part of the same “national community.” It is those who do not have the right to vote who seem to place the most importance on it.

21The author presents two overlapping legal and symbolic demarcations: the “national community” and the “family.” Members of these family groups live in common spaces despite having experienced contrasting primary and secondary socializations. Their interest in politics in France and in their country of origin leads them to watch both French and Arab channels.

22From interviews with men and women of North African origin between the ages of 18 and 45, we learn that fathers encourage their children to vote because they understand the danger of being rejected and the need to address the impact of integration methods. Whatever their differences in status and their right to vote, their discussions about politics are part of a broader picture: recognition. Relationships with institutions, such as the police and schools, receive particular attention and are shaped by experiences with discrimination.

23The legal status of members of these families, not all of whom are documented, is the subject of a heated debate on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of certain family members in relation to others, about “good” and “bad” immigrants. The impact of accusatory public discourse on migrants is echoed within these families.

24In her article, Julia Descamps considers the practical conditions necessary to satisfy family reunion requirements. Like Sellah, she discusses what constitutes “successful integration,” both socially and economically, for individuals whose case has received a positive decision, but whose spouses remain stuck abroad. To win their case, these individuals often make use of the distinction between “chosen immigration” and “imposed immigration,” which has been employed by the proponents of a restrictive and selective migration policy present in the public debate since the 1990s and 2000s (Raissiguer, 2013; Staver, 2014).

25Descamps uses her online observation of three Facebook groups and interviews with members of these groups to show the gap between rights “on paper” – the principles enshrined in the texts governing the freedoms and prerogatives of individuals within a society – and actual access to these rights, i.e. their concrete application within state administrations. The three groups observed constitute “online communities,” places for sharing practical and empirical information about the legal framework and the steps to follow. They are composed of spouses who are in the process of following these steps or who have succeeded in achieving the hoped-for family reunion. While men constitute the majority of these requests, surprisingly women make up 60% of these transnational groups. The survey also shows that ownership of these information resources is not uniform among families.

26In addition to the individual support provided to the members of these groups, collective mobilization is another viable option. For example, in 2021 during the COVID period, a Facebook group which had collected information on more than 200 families waiting for visas was successful in overturning the government’s decision to freeze visas, after an appeal to the Council of State on the grounds that the decision did not comply with international and European law (“right to a normal family life” and “best interests of the child”). Through its activism, the CoViD group won its case. Indeed, a new circular was published following the actions that were then carried out authorizing the entry of individuals into France in the name of family reunion. The objectives, results and limitations of the work of such groups demonstrate their usefulness. Led by active skilled migrants, these groups help others by providing information and moral support, and enable them to “fit” into the boxes established by administrations.

27Audrey Gonin, Sabrina Zennia, Paule Lespérance, Marie-Amélie St-Pierre and Marianne Rodrigue explore the issue of access to information and rights by focussing on access to medicalized contraception and abortion for migrant women in Quebec who have been living in Montreal for less than ten years. To address this little-known aspect of immigrant women’s lives, the authors draw on twelve interviews that they carried out with women from three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.

28In elaborating on the Quebec context, the authors explain that most immigrants may obtain free access to basic healthcare coverage. In Quebec, only migrants with precarious status cannot access the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (Québec, 2021). This includes non-status persons, temporary residents with an open work permit or a work permit for less than six months, and students from countries that do not have an agreement with Quebec.

29An analysis of the interviews shows that the particular obstacles immigrant women face when trying to access healthcare services are marked by the dual issue of intercultural and gender relations within their families. The women are confronted by the need to learn about a new healthcare system and about reproductive norms that differ from those in their country of birth.

30In terms of accessing the health care system, it is notable that barriers to access are based on migratory status (Machado et al., 2022): medical coverage for women seeking asylum is not always granted by health institutions in Canada, while women without status are not entitled to any coverage of healthcare costs. For those eligible for public insurance, an international literature review by Ostrach (2013) reveals that immigrant women have greater difficulty “navigating” the healthcare system to access sexual and reproductive health care (especially in Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Italy and the United States). Studies by Wiebe et al. (2013) show that there is a lack of information about how to access reproductive health services. Language barriers are an additional problem: more information needs to be translated into other languages.

31It is perhaps surprising to learn that some of the women interviewed do not hesitate to use the economic advantage gained by their migration trajectory to pay for private care in their country of birth, or to use their rights to access health insurance in their country of origin. According to the authors, this phenomenon may be exacerbated by the difficulty of accessing general medical care which everyone living in Quebec is currently experiencing.

32Lastly, in their longitudinal, inter- and intra-generational studies, Morgann Pernot and Ines Grau demonstrate how “family formation” is experienced in different countries and continents.

33Morgann Pernot takes us into the little-known territory of Yemeni families living in Djibouti. The author puts into historical context seven generations of one family, some of whose members also migrated to the United States, France and the United Kingdom. The story began in 1884 when the French colonized Djibouti. The emigration of Yemenis to Djibouti therefore goes back a long way, and lasted until 2015 with the start of the civil war in Yemen and labour immigration. This involved primarily men: in those days, wives stayed behind in Yemen, educated their children and were responsible for passing on the traditions.

34Since 2015, the situation has changed dramatically. Women are joining their husbands in Djibouti, and they are studying and entering the job market – despite not having French – and Somali-language skills, and enduring discrimination and the mistrust of men. The article reveals how war transforms intra- and intergenerational gender relations. Furthermore, it describes the difficulty that some women encounter when they become mothers and can no longer rely on their own mothers and grandmothers to help them.

35This article shows how these migrants manipulate the contrasting legal statuses of workers and refugees to acquire various types of aid, such as food aid, the right to vocational training, access to micro-credits and even one-off financial aid. It is quite striking that, contrary to what is expected in France or Canada, these migrants can sign a voluntary waiver which releases them from protection by the Djibouti authorities before they leave, and yet still easily re-acquire refugee status when they return to Djibouti.

36Pernot lived for several months with an extended family and with people associated with them. She established a relationship of trust with the women in this family group, thus providing us with a closeup view of the concerns of this community.

37To conclude, the article by Ines Grau relates the story of four Mozambicans who went to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) on an employment contract some years ago. It is a story about the cold war and about cooperation between two socialist countries.

38The Mozambicans who stayed in Germany were able to start a family there after the fall of the Berlin Wall when, in a changed political climate, the GDR-Mozambique bilateral agreement was terminated. Before the fall, these Mozambicans were not allowed to have children in Germany. They had a four-year contract and were forced to live in a hostel. In order to obtain rights after the reunification of Germany, they had to have lived and worked in the GDR for a certain number of years. Unlike in the previous period, they had to have family ties in Germany to continue living, working and “forming a family.”

39The article offers an excellent view of how these men used the change of legal status to stabilize their situation and that of their wives and children, whether they were born in Mozambique or Germany. The article is rich in information, as it deals with maintaining transnational ties over the long term as well as transforming gender relations, both inter- and intra-generational. It uncovers details about the migration of a little-studied population, which began during a civil war in Mozambique (even if statutorily it was a labour immigration).

40Grau presents case studies rooted in the intersecting narratives of these family members, some within the framework of mixed marriages between Mozambicans and Germans. It is also fascinating to learn about the process of professional retraining, which took place in the context of developing intercultural mediations and of combatting prejudices linked to the rise of the extreme right.

41In conclusion, this thematic issue of Enfances Familles Générations takes a historical and comparative approach to highlight the impact of the legitimacy of being a member of the national communities where these migrant men and women have settled (Destremau, 2022). It often happens that the legal status of members within the same migrant family differ, and therefore their rights to be regularized may differ. As a result, these families – and more broadly, entire groups of migrants – have their work cut out for them finding information on access to residence rights and to schooling for their children, work, health, nationality, etc. They cannot take anything for granted.

42The adaptability of migrants and their family members in imposing their legitimacy can also be seen in their requests for family reunion or in their search for employment.

43Ethnographic observation, through its intersecting narratives of life stories and its recreation of the life contexts of these migrants (while respecting their words and their anonymity) allows us to discover the effects of the policies on their lives, which sometimes seem counter-intuitive.

44We can well imagine that migrations will continue in response to climate change, as well as to political turmoil that has always existed and will continue to exist. Therefore, the evaluation of policies or the lack thereof will be increasingly necessary in the future.

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Catherine Delcroix, Josiane Le Gall et Elise Pape, « Im/migration: Family Strategies and Access to Rights »Enfances Familles Générations [En ligne], 41 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 septembre 2022, consulté le 25 février 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/efg/15334

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Auteurs

Catherine Delcroix

professeure de sociologie, laboratoire « MIGRINTER», (UMR7301), Université de Strasbourg / Institut Convergences Migrations (IC Migrations), Paris, France, delcroix@unistra.fr

Josiane Le Gall

professeure associée, Département d’anthropologie, Université de Montréal, Institut Universitaire SHERPA, Montréal, Canada, j.le.gall@umontreal.ca

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Elise Pape

chercheuse associée au Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Politique (UMR 8177), EHESS, Paris ; Fellow de l’Institut Convergences Migrations (IC Migrations), Paris, France, elise.pape@ehess.fr

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