French immigration bill clears hurdle after changes

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PARIS, Oct 4 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government avoided a setback over its plan to impose DNA tests on immigrants after making concessions that were approved by the upper house of parliament today.

The bill, part of Sarkozy's promised crackdown on illegal immigration, contains plans to demand DNA tests from immigrants seeking to join their family in France. It has provoked opposition from inside and outside Sarkozy's centre-right bloc.

Fearing a lawmakers' rebellion, Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux said the state would pick up the bill, not the families, and the tests would focus on the mother rather than the father to avoid paternity disputes.

The tests will also have to be approved by a magistrate.

The bill will now return to the lower house for approval later this month and is likely to pass into law despite opposition criticism of the watered-down DNA rules.

''What we are doing is an error,'' said Robert Badinter, a Socialist senator. ''The repercussions which this bill will have in Africa and in other countries will be completely negative.'' Prime Minister Francois Fillon said such DNA testing was already used in 12 European countries.

A petition against the testing, launched on Wednesday by the weekly Charlie Hebdo, has been signed by former centre-right Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin as well as Socialists, celebrities and Axel Kahn, an expert on bioethics.

The Licra anti-racism group said it was unnecessary to pass a law on DNA testing.

''These tests exist in other European countries but in these countries, it is not a law. It provides a possibility to prove family ties. The DNA test can help unblock an exceptional situation,'' said Licra's president, Patrick Gaubert.

Such comments are unlikely to sway Sarkozy, formerly the interior minister. In his time in office, immigration laws tightened after youths in poor suburbs, many of them descendants of immigrants, rioted for three weeks in 2005.

An OpinionWay survey published in September showed 74 per cent of voters were in favour of allowing immigrants' relatives to come to France only if they spoke French.

REUTERS JK BD1512

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