- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

PARIS — An amnesty for foreign students who are in France illegally expires with the end of the school year tomorrow, making tens of thousands of youths eligible for deportation and prompting cries of alarm from left-wing and pro-immigrant groups.

Even as surveys show that many Frenchmen approve of tough new immigration legislation drafted by the center-right government, they are uneasy at the prospect of expelling large numbers of school-age children.

Teachers and parents are helping some affected students prepare last-ditch appeals for regularization and hiding others. Leftist politicians are pledging to protect illegal-alien children in showy “adoption” ceremonies at the French parliament and in town halls across the country.

Even the airport unions have warned that they will actively oppose shipping illegal alien students to “home” countries that some have never seen.

The legislation is the work of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who won plaudits from many French voters with his tough response to weeks of riots last year by mainly Muslim youths in the nation’s impoverished suburbs.

Mr. Sarkozy, who hopes to ride that popularity to the presidency next year, has defended the plan as fair and humane, saying it will reward those who play by the rules and encourage highly skilled workers to come to France under a “targeted” immigration plan.

But Richard Moyon, founder of the immigrant-advocacy group Education Without Borders Network, has charged that as many as 50,000 students face expulsion and warned, “The hunt against children that Mr. Sarkozy is trying to unleash cannot take place. We won’t let him.”

An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 illegals are living in France.

The government announced a temporary amnesty for the students through the end of the school year. But as tomorrow’s cutoff approached, the minister declared that local governors could reconsider a limited number of legalization petitions on a case-by-case basis.

That prompted thousands to flood processing centers in hopes of acquiring residence papers. And on Friday, a government-appointed mediator said students would have several more weeks to apply.

“Families have till August 13 to lodge a dossier. There will be no child hunt … there will be no expulsions this summer,” said the mediator, Arno Klarsfeld, on Sud radio.

The shifting pronouncements have created uncertainty for people such as Wahid and Fatma Arbane, who illegally entered France five years ago to escape turmoil in their native Algeria. Today, the Arbanes have two small children enrolled at Les Trois Bornes primary school in northern Paris, but face expulsion if local authorities reject their latest regularization petition, filed last month.

“We meet all the criteria” for a waiver, said Mr. Arbane, 37, as he waited outside the school for his children one sunny afternoon. “My children have had all their schooling in France. They don’t even speak Arabic.”

A former pharmacy student in Algiers, Mr. Arbane now ekes out a living doing odd construction jobs, while Mrs. Arbane cleans houses. Both say they do not want to return to Algeria.

The expulsion threat has sparked new solidarity at the school. Native French parents such as 38-year-old Sandrine Hebard are helping the Arbanes and other families file applications for regularization at Paris police precincts.

“We now say ‘hi’ to each other. We invite their kids to our house,” said Mrs. Hebard, who has two children enrolled at Trois Bornes. “This issue has really built bonds. These people are completely integrated.”

Such friendships contrast sharply with the anger sparked by the riots that raged for almost three weeks in October and November. Polls at the time found that many Frenchmen thought there were too many immigrants, and the anti-immigration National Front party registered a spike in support.

Today, it is the leftist opposition that is making political hay from the deportation debate.

“I find it inhumane to tear these young kids away from their classmates and teachers and send them to a country many have never been to, or know only a bit,” said Socialist Party deputy Jack Lang, another presidential hopeful. “Besides, it’s stupid. France, like other countries, will need their brains in the future.”

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