Immigrant DNA Tests Plan Raises Storm For Sarkozy

Immigrant DNA tests plan raises storm for Sarkozy

Alasdair Sandford in Paris
Friday September 14, 2007
The Guardian

Civil liberties groups in France have reacted furiously over government plans to introduce DNA testing for the families of immigrants, to prove their demands for visas are genuine. The tests would not be compulsory, but there are fears that applicants who do not take them would have their cases rejected.

The proposal has been put forward by Thierry Mariani, an MP of the governing UMP party and a confidant of President Nicolas Sarkozy. They envisage possible DNA tests for applications for visas of more than three months; where there was “serious doubt” birth or marriage certificates were genuine, immigration officials could “propose” to applicants that they take, at their own expense, a test to prove a biological link with other family members.

An amendment authorising the move was adopted by a National Assembly commission; MPs will examine the government's immigration bill in its entirety next week. Among its aims is to impose tighter conditions for families seeking to enter France to join their relatives.

Mr Mariani says DNA tests would be a “sure and rapid” way to address the problem of “documentary fraud”. A report this summer by a UMP senator, Adrien Gouteyron, said there was often doubt over the authenticity of papers in family applications for visas. The senator claimed that in certain African countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo, between 30% and 80% of birth and marriage certificates were forged.

According to Le Monde newspaper, DNA testing if introduced could become “massive”, as there are 23,000 immigration cases each year where visa applications involve children.

The Socialist leader Franois Hollande has questioned the cost of the scheme, and said there were better ways to prove family links than generalised testing. Immigrant welfare groups described the plan as unacceptable. One warned it could lead to dire consequences for France's diplomatic relations with other countries.

Daniele Lochak, a former president of GISTI, a group providing information and support for immigrants, suggested that procedures would be abused. “It's obvious that applicants who refuse [DNA tests] will have every chance of having their visas refused,” she told Le Monde.

The proposals also raise practical questions. Most DNA labs are in Europe or north America, and impose strict conditions. The cost of a test, up to 600, according to Le Monde, is also likely to be beyond the reach of many immigrant families.

The plan has met opposition from within the government's party. Franois Goulard, a former minister, said the test posed legal problems, and pointed out it was possible to have rights over a child without being the biological parent. It would be “questionable and un-called for” to impose such a demand on foreigners.

France currently has strict controls on DNA testing. The civil code says studies of a person's genetic characteristics can only be for medical or scientific research. The law allows tests only when authorised by a magistrate, in strictly defined cases of specific need to prove family links. Mr Mariani is proposing the immigration bill be granted an exemption,.

The bill is one of Mr Sarkozy's principal reforms, and is expected to meet stiff opposition. The president has pledged separately that France will deport 25,000 illegal immigrants during 2007. However, the figure is in danger of not being met: by the end of August fewer than 14,000 deportations had been carried out. Earlier this week the immigration minister, Brice Hortefeux, summoned 20 prefects from around the country to chastise them for failing to meet their deportation targets.