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Europe

French legislators debate bill on immigration and citizenship

The French parliament has begun debating a bill that would strip naturalized citizens of their nationality for committing certain crimes. Even some members of the ruling party are calling for it to be toned down.

French immigrants protest immigration bill in 2008

The bill is highly controversial with human rights groups

Debate over a controversial bill to reform immigration and citizenship regulations began in the French parliament on Tuesday, with members of both the ruling and opposition parties offering criticism.

The bill is France's fifth piece of immigration legislation in seven years, and would, among other things, make it easier for the government to revoke French nationality from citizens who have been naturalized for less than 10 years and who have been convicted of killing or attacking a policeman or any public official.

Indian immigrants at German technology firm

The bill also simplifies entry for highly qualified immigrants

Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who first proposed the legislation, said in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper that he wanted his ministry to be "a machine to produce good French citizens."

"Last year we gave French nationality to 108,000 foreigners," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "Being a 'good French person' doesn't mean denying your history, your roots or your French culture."

Besson's original bill took a more moderate approach before President Nicolas Sarkozy and Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux toughened it during cabinet debate.

Opposition on both sides

In addition to the citizenship regulations, the bill would allow France to deport foreigners, including EU citizens, for theft, aggressive begging or abusing the right to remain in France for 30 days without permission by leaving and re-entering the country to renew that right.

At the same time if would speed up entry procedures for highly qualified immigrants.

Sarkozy's government argues that the legislation would bring France into line with European Union immigration directives, but critics have accused him of twisting those directives to fit a populist, anti-immigrant agenda, possibly to attract far-right voters ahead of presidential elections in 2012.

Demonstrators protest Roma expulsions

Critics like the bill to France's expulsions of Roma

Opposition Socialist spokesman Bruno Le Roux said if passed into law, the bill would amount to "another step taken in the deterioration of republican principles."

Etienne Pinte, a member of parliament from Sarkozy's own conservative UMP party, said the bill was an attempt to bring in votes in the far-right National Front party. He said he would seek up to 40 amendments to "humanize" the bill, or vote against it.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged parliament to reject the bill and tied it in with France's mass Roma expulsions, the legality of which is currently the subject of debate in the European Commission.

"It is shocking that the French government is pushing for measures that clearly target Roma," said HRW's Judith Sunderland. "It smacks of a populist move at the expense of the most discriminated against and vulnerable people in Europe today."

Author: Andrew Bowen (dpa/AP/AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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