With End of French School Year Comes Threat of Deportation

Children and teachers march in Paris against tough new laws that call for the deportation of school-age illegal immigrants and their parents the day after school ends.
Children and teachers march in Paris against tough new laws that call for the deportation of school-age illegal immigrants and their parents the day after school ends. (By Molly Moore -- The Washington Post)
By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 15, 2006

BOURG-LA-REINE, France -- Eight-year-old Andrianina Ralison's favorite subject is math, his sport of choice is basketball, he loves library books about nature and animals. His second-grade teacher at La Faiencerie Elementary School in this southern Paris suburb describes him as one of the top achievers in her class.

Andrianina, a round-faced boy from Madagascar, is also an illegal immigrant. And under tough new immigration laws, Andrianina -- along with hundreds of other schoolchildren and their parents across France -- is scheduled to be deported to his native country the day after school ends July 4.

"Why don't they want us here?" Holiarisoa Ralison, 31, said her son asked the day she received the deportation order.

Across much of Western Europe, countries fearful of losing their national identities and anxious over struggling economies are seeking new ways to stem explosive growth in immigrant populations. The debates in Europe echo many of those heard in the U.S. Congress.

For now, the political consensus in France is to crack down, and last fall -- as part of tougher new policies -- authorities began pulling immigrant children out of school to be deported with their families. But many teachers, classmates and parents rebelled. Teachers at a school in central France hid students from police, even at the risk of being fined thousands of dollars for helping illegal immigrants.

Other schools went on strike to protest the sudden evictions. Students and teachers staged street demonstrations. Local town halls run by Socialist officials who oppose the government's increasingly hard-line approach supported many of the families in their legal appeals to remain in the country.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, architect of the new assault on illegal immigration, relented and declared a temporary amnesty for families with children in school and agreed not to deport them until the end of the current school year.

Now, with the last days of the school year approaching, teachers and other activists are renewing their campaigns to protect students.

"Kids, teachers and parents are angry with the situation," said Richard Moyon, founder of the Education Without Borders Network, an association of teachers that organizes protests as part of its efforts to assist youngsters threatened with deportation. "One of the roles of a teacher is to teach kids the ideals of the republic -- freedom and equality. How can teachers explain what freedom and equality are when you've got in front of your eyes this kind of example of children seeing their friends deported?"

Following pressure from Moyon's group and sympathetic politicians, the French Interior Ministry on Wednesday issued new guidelines to the local governing authorities that decide whether to grant residency papers to illegal immigrants. Families may be given more favorable consideration if their children have spent at least a year in French schools, were born in France or arrived at a young age and speak French fluently.

The guidelines are advisory only; local authorities are not required to use them.

The French government estimates that illegal immigrants number between 200,000 and 400,000. Officials suggest that at least 50,000 of those are children; advocacy groups say the number of children could total 100,000.

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