French Immigration Minister Eric Besson today signed a decree that will allow illegal immigrants to obtain temporary residence permits to stay in France in exchange for their cooperation in helping the police break up human smuggling networks.
"When an illegal immigrant is the victim of forced prostitution or is the subject of exploitation in shameful conditions and wishes to cooperate with administrative and judicial authorities, the possibility to obtain a temporary residence permit is offered to this person," Besson told reporters after a visit to the Paris police headquarters.
An illegal immigrant, after being questioned by the police, would have "a 30-day period of thinking to allow him to escape from the influence of his exploiters and take the decision to lodge a complaint with the police," he said.
It's only after the illegal immigrant makes this decision that he or she will receive a temporary residence permit of at least six months, renewable until the judicial proceeding is over.
"If an actual sentencing is rendered, the victim will obtain a 10-year residence permit," Besson added.
In addition to the residence permit, illegal immigrants will be offered social advantages, such as financial help.
This decree is criticized by several organizations dealing with illegal immigration.
"A call for denouncement is extremely shocking," Stephane Maugendre, a lawyer and president of GISTI, an independent nonprofit organization that supports immigrants, told ABCNews.com. "A right is going to be given to people against the denouncement of something."
The question is: Are illegal immigrants willing to cooperate, even with the promise of residence permit and the end of living underground?
This may be risky for most of these illegal immigrants.
"The smuggler will say: If you give me away to the police, I will take revenge on your family," Maugendre said. "The risk of reprisal on the family back home is evident."
This was echoed by an illegal immigrant from Afghanistan who arrived in Paris after paying close to $13,000 to smugglers. "If I give their [the smugglers] names to the police, my entire family back in Afghanistan will have problems," he said to France 2 TV. "I'm safe here. I don't have anything to worry about. These groups function like the Mafia. They are dangerous and very well organized."
Shocked by opponents' use of the term "denouncement" before full details of it were actually made public, immigration minister Besson asked, "Women who are beaten up and who are lodging a complaint, should they be accused of denouncement? These illegal immigrants, do they have to stay in their basements so that they are not accused of denouncement?"
According to the immigration ministry, 120 smuggling networks were dismantled last year in France. And 11 people, including eight organizers of a Chinese network fabricating fake IDs, were arrested Wednesday in Paris and its outskirts.
A similar law voted in 2003 encouraging prostitutes residing illegally in France to denounce their pimps in exchange for legal status did not prove to be effective. No statistics exist on this attempt but, according to several organizations quoted by Agence France Presse, fewer than 100 people came forward and received papers in the Paris area last year.