Paris Area Mayors To Resist Immigration Crackdown

Paris area mayors to resist immigration crackdown

Thu 13 Sep 2007, 15:59 GMT

PARIS, Sept 13 (Reuters) – Eight mayors in the Paris region said on Thursday they would resist a plan by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to expel more illegal immigrants.

Sarkozy, a law-and-order hardliner, won the election in May after campaigning vigorously on the theme of national identity and promising a crackdown on illegal immigration.

But Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux is struggling to meet Sarkozy's target to expel 25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year, after officials said they expelled some 11,000 in the first seven months of 2007.

Hortefeux met local prefects from areas who had not met their expulsion targets on Wednesday, sparking a wave of criticism among human rights groups and the left-wing opposition, which said he was obsessed with numbers.

“We … remind you that we are doing our duty as citizens to protect inhabitants who live, work and study in our community,” eight mayors from the political left in the Paris region wrote in an open letter to Hortefeux.

“We are not at your orders,” they said. “Your obsessive vision of numbers in the area of immigration policy is even more condemnable because human beings are involved.”

French media said Hortefeux was under fierce pressure from Sarkozy to reach the expulsion target.

“I want numbers!” Le Point magazine quoted Sarkozy as telling Hortefeux in a meeting last month. “It's an (election) campaign commitment. The French are expecting this from me,” the president said, according to the weekly.

Immigration is a sensitive issue in France.

French officials estimate that between 200,000 and 400,000 illegal immigrants live in France.

Sarkozy sparked controversy when he created the post of minister for immigration and national identity after his election, with rights groups saying it risked to fan xenophobia.

Anti-racism group MRAP this week criticised Hortefeux's drive to meet Sarkozy's expulsion target, saying it turned immigrants into “disposable objects”.

The immigration debate gained further steam on Thursday, after a parliamentary commission suggested on Wednesday that DNA tests be introduced to verify the blood ties between immigrants and the members of their family they wanted to bring to France.

Sarkozy already tightened immigration laws as interior minister under a previous conservative government after youths in poor suburbs — many of them descendants of immigrants — torched thousands of cars in three weeks of rioting in 2005.