- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

PARIS — The welcome mat is vanishing for immigrants in France as lawmakers debate tough new legislation and the government seeks to enforce deportation quotas for illegal aliens.

A draft bill, set for vote by the French National Assembly as early as tomorrow, would establish new requirements for would-be immigrants, including language and cultural values exams. Its more controversial clauses would introduce voluntary DNA testing and legalize some data gathering based on race and ethnicity.

While the legislation must still be debated in the French Senate, its more problematic provisions have sparked widespread uproar, with some analysts suggesting it will just drive immigration underground.

The desire to go to Europe is very strong, said Catherine de Wenden, an immigration expert at the National Center for Scientific Research, a Paris think tank. And the tougher the policy, the more likely it will lead to illegal immigration.

Several hundred protesters gathered in front of the National Assembly in Paris yesterday, brandishing banners denouncing the legislation and the country”s center-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is himself the son of a Hungarian immigrant.

“France has a tradition of immigration it’s part of its wealth, said Majid Messoudene, a 31-year-old ethnic Algerian from the immigrant-heavy suburb of Saint Denis. “Whether the government likes it or not, we”ll remain a country of immigration. And we”ll help the illegals and prevent deportations as much as possible.

Supporters argue that France, which suffered weeks of riots in immigrant-heavy Paris suburbs in the fall of 2005, needs to set limits to immigration to preserve its economy and national identity.

“A responsible management of migratory flows appears the only possible policy,” Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux told parliament, describing the country’s current integration model as a failure.

But the bill has roused a range of critics including leftist politicians, scientists, human rights groups, the Vatican and even French police and members of Sarkozy’s own party and government.

“If they’re necessary, expulsions [of illegal immigrants] should be decided on a case-by-case basis,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said during an interview on RTL radio.

The legislation makes good on a promise by Mr. Sarkozy to introduce “chosen immigration,” favoring skilled workers who can fill critical labor gaps. In his previous position as interior minister, he championed two laws hardening the country’s immigration policy.

Mr. Sarkozy stirred a furor last year by deporting illegal immigrant students and alienated many foreigners with his tough handling of the 2005 riots by suburban youths, many of whom were of Arab and African extraction.

This year, Mr. Sarkozy has directed authorities to deport 25,000 illegals this year, compared to 15,000 in 2004. His immigration minister chastized regional prefects last week for failing to meet the quotas.

But the president has also championed affirmative action or what he dubs “positive discrimination” in jobs and education. And his new government is striking in its ethnic diversity, starting with Justice Minister Rachida Dati, the daughter of North African immigrants.

Mr. Sarkozy’s immigration policies have played well among ordinary citizens, as did the slogan he once borrowed from far-right leader Jean-Marie le Pen: “France, love it or leave it.”

A survey published yesterday in Le Figaro newspaper found 74 percent of respondents favored immigration quotas. Most also supported French language requirements for would-be immigrants and opposed blanket regularization of illegals, according to the OpinionWay poll.

France”s choosier approach toward immigration is reflected elsewhere in Europe, where countries are turning away boatloads of poor Africans, while trying to attract better qualified foreign workers.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown this month introduced a new immigration policy very similar to that of Mr. Sarkozy, requiring that new immigrants first learn to speak English and throwing up barriers to unskilled applicants.

The policies are expected to reduce the number of people entering Britain by at least 35,000 a year.

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, noting that the 27-member European Union attracts only 5 percent of skilled migrants compared to 55 percent who head for the United States, has vowed to introduce a labor “blue card” next month.

As Europe’s answer to the U.S. green card, the document would allow holders to stay for an initial two-year period and eventually become qualified for longer-term residency or to work in other EU states.

But some analysts say graying Europe needs all kinds of immigrants, including unskilled ones.

“Immigration has been a major concern in almost every European society,” said Hugo Brady, a research fellow at the Center for European Reform, in London. But at the point where European societies are so anxious about the issue, economists and others say we”re going to need 20 million more immigrants in the next 50 years.

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