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Court Considers Future of Immigration Law

Germany's governing coalition is trying to save one of its legislative centerpieces -- a new law regulating immigration -- from a new opposition onslaught. The law's future is now in the hands of the country's top court.


It is now up to Germany's federal justices to decide on immigration

Germany's major opposition parties turned to the country's highest court on Wednesday in an attempt to nullify the country's first law governing immigration.

Members of the Union opposition bloc asked the German Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe -- the country's highest legal authority -- to declare the legislative procedure in which the measure was approved to be unconstitutional and call for a new vote. The court is expected to rule sometime before the law takes effect on Jan. 1.

The decision in question was made in March by the Bundesrat, which represents the states on national matters and thus considers many issues addressed by the national parliament. The dispute centers on the vote made by the eastern state of Brandenburg. When the roll call was taken, state Labor Minister Alwin Ziel, a Social Democrat, voted yes, and Interior Minister Jörg Schönbohm, a Christian Democrat, voted no.

Decision Sparks Protest

The split decision created an immediate problem for Klaus Wowereit, the Social Democrat who is the governing mayor of Berlin and was president of the Bundesrat at the time, for one reason: Germany's constitution requires a state to cast a unanimous vote. Wowereit then turned to the state's Social Democratic premier, Manfred Stolpe. He voted yes, and after Schönbohm said Wowereit knew his position Wowereit ruled that Brandenburg had supported the proposal.

But members of the Christian Democrats immediately refused to accept the ruling. ''You are breaking the law," shouted Roland Koch, the Christian Democrat who is premier of the central state of Hesse.

Wowereit refused to change the decision, and the Christian Democrats along with members of their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, walked out of the session in Berlin.

In July, six states governed by the opposition members asked the high court to examine the issue. On Wednesday, the premier from one of those states, the Saarland, laid down the opposition's case. Peter Müller said that a crowbar had been used to push through the law and that Mr. Wowereit had overstepped his authority.

Minister Defends Decision

Interior Minster Otto Schily stood up on Wednesday for Wowereit, saying that Stolpe was the head of the state's delegation and thus was the person who should cast the vote.

The new immigration law was introduced in the national parliament by the coalition of Social Democrats and Alliance 90/The Greens in an attempt to help Germany clear the regulatory way for a predicted influx of immigrants who would help push Germany's economy as the country's overall population ages and support its pension system. The country already has about 7 million foreigners, around 9 percent of the population.

Among other things, the new law would simplify regulations governing residency permits, cutting the number of them from five to two. It also would require immigrants to take language and cultural courses.

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