France now has a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. It is in part committed to the task of what is called in France “faire du chiffre”. This means “doing figures”: in other words, attaining a quantitative level that accounts for the performance of governmental and administrative action. Here, the figure under consideration is “number of immigrants in irregular situation taken outside of the national territory”:

“During a visit to Police headquarters in Paris on August 21, Brice Hortefeux, the Minister of Immigration and National Identity, said that “we are slightly below” the 2007 objective of 25,000 people accompanied to the border. “We need to double our efforts and increase the number of people arrested”, added Brice Hortefeux. He said to the new police prefect, Michel Gaudin, that he should “increase significantly the number of arrests”, reminding him that the objective for Paris alone is of 3.680 people in 2007. The Minister said that the recent entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the European Union has “complicated the situation”, because the “distancing” of nationals from these countries represented, before them joining the EU, about 30% of the total amount.” (from “Brice Hortefeux veut multiplier les interpellations de sans-papiers”, Le Monde, August 21 2007)

What is the rationale, if any, of these figures? In a very detailed analysis published some months ago by Mouvements, sociologist Damien de Blic exposes the way in which this practice of quantification (initiated by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was in charge of the Ministry of the Interior), apart from disrupting police work and generating scandalous situations of human distress, is inconsistent within the pure logic of quantitative endeavor:

“As far as “doing figures” is at the heart of the policy undertaken since 2003, it is not useless to have a look at the other figure that dovetails or covers this policy: namely, that of its financial cost. This figure is, by contrast with that of arrests and expulsions, not highlighted by the authors of this policy. Only Dominique de Villepin mentions, as by mistake, the “considerable efforts” needed by this massive operation, and gives an estimate of about 67 million euros for 2005. Anyway, silence is easily understandable when we consider the inordinately huge means mobilized in order to attain the figure that has been defined as an “absolute priority” by the Ministry of the Interior.” (from “Sans-papiers: l’autre “chiffre” de la politique d’expulsion”, Mouvements, March 14 2007)

So, as quantification is supposed to help making things hard and reasonable, the cost of “doing figures” (which include plainly economic costs) is also to be taken into the picture. De Blic’s sociological analysis is, of course, not a praise for economization. But: “à chiffre, chiffre et demi”.

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