- Associated Press
Tuesday, September 28, 2010

PARIS (AP) — France’s immigration minister presented a bill Tuesday that would strip naturalized French citizens of their nationality if they threaten the lives of police or other legal authorities — a measure critics contend will divide citizens into two classes.

Eric Besson’s legislation, aimed at toughening up immigration policy, was certain to open up several days of noisy debate in the lower house of parliament.

The sweeping bill includes measures that target fellow European Union citizens who abuse the generous French social welfare system or overstay their welcome. Those measures, along with tougher punishment for those found guilty of “aggressive begging,” implicitly target Gypsies.

The bill risks worsening the already electric tensions surrounding France’s recent expulsions of hundreds of Gypsies, or Roma, primarily to Romania. The expulsions, seen as targeting a specific ethnic group, have been condemned by the EU and the Vatican.

Causing most concern in the bill presented Tuesday, however, is the plan to strip citizenship from people naturalized less than 10 years ago if they endanger police or other authorities. That is especially irksome to human rights, aid and religious groups as well as the conservative government’s leftist opposition. They claim it would create a two-tier system that makes some people more French than others.

Currently, a citizen can lose French nationality for treason or terrorism.

President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested the rules should be tougher, announcing in a July 30 speech a “national war” on crime that notably hits hard on immigrants who disobey the law.

“French nationality should be earned. One must know how to be worthy of it,” the president said at the time. French nationality should be revoked “from any person of foreign origin who voluntarily threatens the life of a police officer” or other public authority, he said.

Mr. Sarkozy is known for his tough talk on crime, and critics say he is trying to boost his sagging popularity by appealing to public fears about security and pandering to the anti-immigrant far right.

Tensions between police and youth in France’s poor, immigrant neighborhoods sometimes erupt into tear gas and stone-throwing violence — or worse. The bill under discussion Tuesday is the fifth change in seven years to France’s rules aimed at controlling the migratory flux.

Critics denounce the creation of what amounts to a hierarchical order of citizenry for whom different rules apply. One is French or one isn’t, they say, and nationality cannot simply be tossed away.

“We must cultivate pride in being French,” Mr. Besson said in an interview published Tuesday in the daily Le Parisien, and extending the loss of citizenship to include those who attack police “has a serious symbolic and national meaning.”

The Party of the Left denounced a “Vichy-style measure,” a reference to the collaborationist government in World War II that carried out Nazi policies.

Some 45 associations, mainly Christian and aid groups, planned a demonstration near the National Assembly during the debate. A leading anti-racism group also planned a demonstration.

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