[Jacques Chirac]'s government came to power last March 16 on a platform that catered to rightist demands for more police protection against crime and for more restrictions against illegal immigrants and against the ease with which children of immigrants could obtain citizenship. Many French resented the North African Arab immigrants, and many blamed them for most of the petty crime in the cities.
In the most embarrassing anti-immigrant act of the Chirac government, police rounded up 101 Malians in mid-October on charges of illegal immigration and flew them back to Mali, in West Africa, late at night on a chartered aircraft. Some had to be shackled to their seats, and none was given a chance to seek legal counsel. This obvious offense to fair play troubled many French, and even members of the government finally acknowledged they had acted too theatrically. In the future, they said, illegal immigrants like these Malians would be expelled one by one.
Even before the student protests, Chirac knew that consideration of the bill would probably provoke immigrants into street demonstrations. But he and [Charles Pasqua] probably thought such demonstrations could be handled relatively easily by the police. But there are two complications now: there is a new and powerful student movement to march alongside the immigrants, and there is a growing French public troubled by the heavy-handedness of its police.