Comfortable with their fellow European immigrants, who either lost their former national identity or went back home after they made money in France, the French find themselves uneasy in the presence of a rival culture on their own territory.
There are several other apparent reasons for fears and concerns about immigration in the French population.
For one thing, the immigrants are seen as a drain on the struggling French economy. The National Front party has successfully exploited the fact that the official number of immigrants in the country is about the same as the number of unemployed workers.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 15, 1991 Home Edition World Report Page 4 Column 5 World Report Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in the Oct. 1 edition of World Report wrongly identified Orleans, France, as Joan of Arc's birthplace. The French saint and heroine was born in Domremy-la-Pucelle. She is known as the "Maid of Orleans" because she helped free the Loire River town from the English in 1429.
Additionally, with the 12-nation European Economic Community set to create a "borderless Europe" in 1993--where immigration and customs stations between member states are supposed to be removed to promote free trade and traffic in goods--the culture-proud French were already feeling threatened and overly dependent on others to protect their borders.
"France can't do much about illegal immigration by itself," noted magazine and newspaper columnist Alain Duhamel in an interview, "because the clandestine immigrants enter France through other countries. We have to have a common policy. Spain and Italy have to become the gendarmes for France, they are the ones who must do the police work."
In a Europe without borders, the immigration policy of the 12 nations is only as strong as its weakest link, since that is the country that immigrants would naturally choose in order to penetrate the Continent. The Treaty of Schengen, signed in the Luxembourg city of the same name in 1985, sets the general terms for a common immigration policy. However, officials of the European countries are still involved in intense discussions to come up with a standard policy of visas for non-European Community visitors and would-be immigrants.
A key regional election in the Alps-Maritime region of France next spring, pitting Le Pen against self-made millionaire and soccer baron Bernard Tapie, an independent who generally backs the Socialists, is likely to be the first vote in which immigration will play a critical role.
But the big showdown will come in the 1993 spring parliamentary elections that have the potential of forcing 74-year-old President Mitterrand into an early retirement before his seven-year term expires in 1995.
Political friends of the president say he has vowed not to undergo another humiliating period of "cohabitation," as he did with Chirac (1986-88), in which he serves as Socialist head of state with a right-wing prime minister and government.
Also contributing to this story were editorial assistant Sarah White in Paris, Times staff writer William Tuohy in London and researcher Jeff Hurd in Berlin.