- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Immigration will play a central role in persuading French voters for which of the two finalists they will cast their ballots in the second and decisive round of the French presidential elections May 6.

One contender is Nicolas Sarkozy, 52, leader of the ruling UMP party, the front-runner on the right. Latest polls indicate about 51 percent of the electorate favors Mr. Sarkozy, who, if elected, promises stricter control on immigration.

The other candidate is the Socialist Party’s Segolene Royal, 53, who has about 48 percent in the polls. She is the first French woman to reach the second round in the presidential elections. The French left has traditionally been softer on immigration.

The number of legal immigrants in France is about 205,000. But the French are worried about illegal immigration, for which of course there are no exact figures but estimates run between 200,000 and 500,000.

In May 2005 an official estimate of illegal aliens in France was made public by the government for the first time: between 200,000 and 400,000. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin reiterated then that stricter rules would be applied in dealing with clandestine immigration, including the creation of an immigration police.

The association Droits devant — Rights ahead — claims there are some 130,000 illegal immigrants in France and calls for massive amnesty, as done in Italy and Spain. “Massive regularization is out of the question, because it does not bring a solution,” replied Mr. de Villepin.

Indeed, massive immigration has long troubled the French (and other Western Europeans) who tend to blame the rise of crime and drugs in their cities on illegal immigrants — accusations not entirely without justification, but at the same time accusations that have frequently been exaggerated by the right, if somewhat underplayed by the left.

It is this rampant increase in mostly illegal immigrants, primarily from North Africa, that has rallied a great many voters around the extreme right National Front led by Jean Marie Le Pen — and now to Mr. Sarkozy, who promises to address the issues and clean up the turbulent suburbs. When you look at the facts and figures, it is understandable why some people start to worry.

Michele Tribalat, director of research at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, or INED, as it is known by its French acronym, published the results of a paper titled “Ethnic Concentrations in France” in the January 2007 edition of the Journal of General Strategy called “Agir: L’engrenage demographique” (“Act: The Demographic Gridlock”).

The Tribalat study explains why some French citizens feel threatened by these massive waves of immigrants, who more often than not are parked in the suburbs surrounding Paris, where little to no effort is made to integrate them into French society. However, it is also fair to say it is just as often the immigrants who refuse to be integrated into French society.

According to Miss Tribalat’s findings, in the Parisian suburb of Mantes-La-Joie, for example, the number of immigrants has jumped from 9.8 percent in 1968 to an astounding 66-1/2 percent of the commune’s population in 1999. In Clichy-Sous-Bois, another suburb of the French capital, the number of immigrants reached 69.8 percent in 1999 from 22.1 percent in 1968. Given the ever-rising trend, those figures could have only gone higher in the last eight years.

One of the contributing authors in the same issue is none other than Nicolas Sarkozy, who penned an article titled “Demographics and Politics” in which he writes: “One should not hide the truth: The difficulties of integration in France, the ‘crises of the suburbs,’ the rise of urban violence, are in large part the result of 45 years of a south-north immigration insufficiently regulated and organized.

“It is up to the nation to decide whom, and under which conditions, it authorizes to remain on its soil to contribute, the case being, to its citizenry,” wrote Mr. Sarkozy.

Mr. Sarkozy, the former interior minister in President Jacques Chirac’s government, is disliked for his heavy-handedness on immigration. And he promises tighter control. In fact this very issue places Mr. Sarkozy, himself the son of a Hungarian immigrant, in the lead in next Sunday’s election.

But, says Miss Tribalat, “Declarations on the need to break down the ghettos will face this dynamic, very hard to reverse, all the more so that foreign immigration continues to be concentrated on the Ile-de-France region” (Paris and its suburbs).

Indeed, whoever wins next Sunday’s election, be it Mr. Sarkozy or Miss Royal, will face the reality that you cannot deport the immigrants en masse, nor continue with the same policy. In that respect, the Right and the Left are bound to be drawn closer, even if they will never publicly admit it.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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