Control and selection have been implicit dimensions of the history of immigration in France, shaping and defining the parameters of national identity over centuries. The year 1996 was a turning point when several hundred African sans-papiers sought refuge in the Saint-Bernard de la Chapelle church in the 18th arrondissement of Paris while awaiting a decision on their petition for amnesty and legalization. The church was later stormed by heavily armed police officers, and although there was widespread support for government policies intended to encourage legal paths to immigration, the police raids provoked outrage. This provided the impetus for social mobilization and the sans-papiers behaved contrary to expectations and decided to deliberately enter the public domain in order to shed light on their conditions. Emerging in this way from the dubious safety of legal invisibility, claims were made for more direct public representation and ultimately for regularization, while also countering popular misconceptions and stereotypes concerning their presence and role in French society. The sans-papiers movement is inspired by a shared memory of resistance and political representation that helps define a lieu de mémoire, a space which is, from a broadly postcolonial perspective, very much inscribed in collective memory.
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