Contested French Immigration Bill Passes

Contested French Immigration Bill Passes

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 23, 2007; 6:20 PM

PARIS — French lawmakers adopted a hotly contested bill on Tuesday that would institute language exams and potential DNA testing for prospective immigrants, making it more difficult for families to join loved ones in France.

The DNA amendment, the most controversial aspect of the legislation, is meant to ensure that claims of family ties are true. It was added as a way to ensure that visa-seekers were not using fraudulent papers, common in some African countries.

While the expensive test is optional, critics fear it would be viewed as mandatory by those hoping to join family members in France.

The opposition Socialist Party has said it would take the issue before the Constitutional Council, which ensures that all laws conform with the constitution, in the hopes of getting the DNA amendment dumped. The move delays the bill's formal passage into law.

“This law is aimed at institutionalizing xenophobia,” said Communist Party lawmaker Patrick Braouezec.

France's National Ethics Committee, a consultative body, has also said it has serious reservations about the DNA amendment for fear it could erode individual freedoms.

In a bid to appease critics, the DNA amendment was watered down to an 18-month experiment in several countries, with a genetic comparison only being made between a child seeking to join a mother already in France.

The legislation is a step toward fulfilling Conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy's goal of increasing the proportion of skilled immigrants in France from 7 percent to 50 percent and generally tailoring the profile of the immigrant community.

In September, Sarkozy proposed 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 at the time.

Immigration reform was a central theme of Sarkozy's presidential campaign.

“You are reimbursing your debt to the extreme right,” Greens Party lawmaker Noel Mamere said Tuesday ahead of the vote, a reference to the far-right party which voted massively for Sarkozy at the expense of its own candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

The rest of the bill requires that prospective immigrants take a language test and an exam on fundamental French values. It also sets a minimum income level for the relative in France to ensure the person arriving has enough financial support.

Twenty-one deputies of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement abstained in the 282-235 vote in the lower house, the National Assembly, and four voted against the bill. The bill passed in the Senate 185-136.