France Races to Oust Illegal Immigrants
By ELAINE GANLEY
The Associated Press
Saturday, September 22, 2007; 7:11 AM
PARIS — A Russian boy suffers head injuries after falling from a window while trying to elude police. A North African man slips from a window ledge and fractures his leg while fleeing officers. A Chinese woman lies in a coma after plunging from a window during a police check.
As France races to deport 25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year _ a quota set by President Nicolas Sarkozy _ tensions are mounting and the crackdown is taking a toll.
(PHOTO: Brice Hortefeux, who heads the Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-development, addresses members of parliament at the National Assembly in Paris, in this Sept. 18, 2007 file photo. As France races to meet a target of deporting 25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year, a quota set by President Nicolas Sarkozy , tensions are mounting and the crackdown is taking a toll. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon) (Jacques Brinon – AP)
Critics say the hunt threatens values in a nation that prides itself on being a cradle of human rights and a land of asylum. Protesters have gathered by the dozens in Paris to protect illegal aliens as police move in.
But with three months left in the year, police have caught at least 11,800 immigrants, less than half the target, so Sarkozy has ordered officials to pick up the pace.
“I want numbers,” Sarkozy reportedly told Brice Hortefeux, head of the Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development, which Sarkozy set up after taking office in May. “This is a campaign commitment. The French expect (action) on this.”
There are no solid estimates of the number of illegal aliens in France. The Immigration Ministry puts it at 200,000 to 400,000, many from former colonies in Africa. France has a population of some 63 million.
The president, who cultivated a tough-on-crime image while serving as Interior Minister, says France needs a new kind of immigrant _ one who is “selected, not endured.”
His government is fast-tracking tighter immigration legislation. Parliament's lower house on Thursday approved a bill that would allow consular officers to request DNA samples from immigrants trying to join relatives in France. Even some Cabinet ministers dislike the measure, which critics say betrays France's humanitarian values.
The DNA tests would be voluntary and proponents say such testing, which would get a trial run until 2010, would speed visa processing and give immigrants a way to bolster their applications.
Immigration legislation under consideration also aims to ensure that immigrants joining family members here speak French and grasp French values _ to be proven with tests.
In a nationally televized interview Thursday, Sarkozy went further, saying he wants France to adopt immigration quotas by regions of the world and by occupation.
“I want us to be able to establish each year, after a debate in parliament, a quota with a ceiling for the number of foreigners we accept on our territory,” he said.
European countries to the south, like Italy or Spain, face a greater challenge from illegal immigration than France _ but neither has set themselves targets for throwing aliens out.
In the Netherlands, the first act of the new parliament elected in November 2006 was to halt deportations set in motion by the previous government.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's new government declared an amnesty for up to 30,000 people. New asylum seekers and illegal immigrants still face a tough regime, kept in camps while their cases are handled. Even legal immigrants must pass language tests before coming and take citizenship classes in order to remain.
Meanwhile, resistance to France's crackdown has built among human rights groups, politicians of the opposition left, and even police. Injuries of foreigners during the past two months have also mobilized critics.
The 12-year-old Russian boy, who was fleeing with his illegal alien father in the northern town of Amiens, has been hospitalized with serious head injuries since early August. The North African man in the southern town of Roussillon suffered double fractures to his leg. The Chinese woman fell from an apartment in Paris on Thursday when police investigating a theft complaint turned up to carry out a check.
“Neighborhood groups are forming,” said Pierre Willem of the UNSA police union. “Reactions are becoming more and more violent.”
Some police officers worry they will get caught in the numbers hunt _ accused of racism for making arrests on the basis of skin color or other illegal criteria.
Even unions representing Air France employees are protesting, saying the flagship carrier's image is suffering because the government uses it to return illegal aliens, sometimes bound hand and foot, on flights occasionally marked by violent incidents.
“It's not our mission to be police auxiliaries,” said Leon Cremieux, a national secretary of Sud Aerien, a small union representing employees of the aviation industry. Conditions during some expulsions are “contrary to human rights.”
Socialist lawmaker Michele Delaunay, of Bordeaux, recently became a symbolic sponsor of a Kurd of Turkish nationality who had been ordered to leave France, stalling the expulsion process.
“It's a way to show the public that these problems of expulsion are, above all, human problems and not numbers,” Delaunay said, adding that the young man speaks French, worked and paid taxes, making his case “particularly legitimate.”
She nevertheless received an official warning that citizens who help illegal aliens stay in France risk a five-year prison term.