Government denies immigrant amnesty figures
SAINT SORLIN DE CONAC, France, July 7, 2006 (AFP) – The French government warned Friday it was too early to say how many illegal immigrants would benefit from an amnesty for families with school-age children, after a top official said thousands would be given legal status.
Speaking to reporters in western France, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the government was currently evaluating the situation, and would take a “firm and humane” approach to each individual case.
“Before talking about figures, we need a real and serious assessment,” he said, echoing comments made by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy late Thursday, who said “those who give out figures do not know what they are talking
Paris police chief Yannick Blanc said in an interview Thursday that “several thousand” illegal immigrant families with children in French schools would be given residency rights, following a grassroots campaign against their deportation.
Thousands of children were facing expulsion with their parents at the end of the school year after a government moratorium expired, but campaigners say most of them know no other country and that deportation would be inhumane.
A nationwide movement has sprung up over the expulsion plans – with leaders of the Socialist opposition among tens of thousands of people to have signed a petition vowing to protect children from what they call a “manhunt.”
Bowing to pressure last month, Sarkozy – the centre-right frontrunner for next year's presidential election – told the authorities to reconsider cases based on new criteria, such as whether a child has “strong ties” to France.
Thousands of parents have since been queuing up outside processing centres in hope of qualifying for residency papers.
The new requirements include showing that one of their children was born in France or arrived before the age of 13, has been at school in France for two years, or has no link with the country of his or her parents.
The Education Without Borders Network (RESF), which has coordinated the protest campaign, estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 children of illegal immigrant families are in the French school system.
Because French schools are obliged to take in children regardless of whether they are in the country legally, the government says that to give residency rights to all pupils' families would encourage illegal immigration.
Villepin said the government's concern was to combine “the respect for humanity, and the respect of our rules.”
“There is no magical solution,” he said. “This is a difficult question… which requires us to find a just balance.”
“We want to welcome, as we should do, all those who want to integrate into French society, all those who are legally in the country, and of course to fight against illegal immigration,” he said.
The far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on Friday accused the government of planning a “mass amnesty” and warned of “dramatic consequences” if the government failed to stop the “torrent of immigration.”
Officials have repeatedly stressed there is no plans for a blanket amnesty of France's estimated 200,000 to 400,000 clandestine immigrants – as was carried out under previous Socialist governments.
Under Sarkozy's authority, France has vowed to step up the pace of illegal immigrant deportations to 26,000 this year.
The French parliament also last month approved a new immigration law which seeks to encourage more qualified workers to come to France and tightens entrance rules for other foreigners, notably for immigrants' families.
It also scraps the automatic right to residency papers for illegal immigrants who have been 10 years in the country.
The Socialist Party – which charges that the law will undermine the human rights of the most vulnerable immigrants – on Thursday filed a motion challenging it before France's top constitutional court.