France Weighs Immigration Controls After Riots

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

PARIS, Nov. 29 -- The French government Tuesday proposed tightening immigration controls to make it more difficult for foreign students and foreign-born relatives of French residents to enter the country. The plan was fueled by concern over unrest in immigrant neighborhoods, the scene recently of three weeks of street violence.

At the same time, the lower house of Parliament overwhelmingly approved new anti-terrorism laws that would allow increased video surveillance in public places and tougher monitoring of international travel by French citizens.

Both moves are part of government efforts to impose tougher restrictions on immigration and personal freedoms in a time of heightened anxieties over perceived threats from abroad and at home.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Parliament on Tuesday that France did not want "those people that nobody else in the world wants." He added, "We want selective immigration."

Sarkozy, a leading contender for the French presidency in 2007, enraged residents of the country's poorest communities when he called rioting youths "scum" and "rabble" and suggested that some crime-ridden, impoverished neighborhoods should be cleaned out with a "pressure hose."

More than 200 public buildings and 10,000 cars were burned nationwide in rioting that erupted on Oct. 27, the worst violence in France in nearly four decades.

French politicians have split their responses between calling for improvements in the living conditions in those neighborhoods, populated mainly by immigrants and their French-born offspring, and blaming the residents there for bringing social problems on themselves by refusing to integrate into French society.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who proposed the new immigration laws, said Tuesday that "integration into our society, notably command of the French language, should be a condition for bringing in one's family." He also said that French authorities should "uphold the law forbidding polygamy in France."

Several French political leaders have linked polygamy with the violence that struck more than 300 communities across France. Large families with multiple wives and numerous children foster poverty and lack of parental control over youths, the politicians said.

Polygamy is illegal in France, but the law has not been enforced among African and Arab immigrants who have imported the practice from their home countries.

The government's proposed law, which Villepin said would be submitted to Parliament next year, would make it more difficult for French residents and citizens to bring foreign spouses into the country and require longer waiting periods for legal immigrants to apply for visas for their spouses and children. Legal immigrants would be required to be able to speak French before family members could join them in France.

The new anti-terrorism measure, strengthening laws that are already among the toughest in Europe, passed the lower house 373 to 27. "We must give greater powers to law enforcement to avoid a catastrophe," Sarkozy told the National Assembly. The bill now goes to the Senate, where analysts predict it will pass, probably next year.

The bill was prompted by bombings on the transit systems in London this year and Madrid last year that killed a total of 247 people. French law enforcement officials warn that France faces a serious risk of attack by Islamic radicals.

Under the draft law, certain buildings, including department stores, mosques and synagogues, could be equipped with surveillance cameras. Aides to Sarkozy say he embraced the measure after seeing how effective video recordings had been in helping British authorities identify the subway bombers.

Also Tuesday, the French prosecutor's office said anti-terrorism police arrested six suspected Islamic radicals, including a prison officer and a prison chaplain, in Brittany and western and central France, the Reuters news agency reported.

Correspondent John Ward Anderson contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company