French parliament tightens immigration rules

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PARIS, Oct 23 (Reuters) The French parliament passed a bill on Tuesday tightening immigration rules, including the introduction of language assessments and optional DNA tests to verify family ties.

President Nicolas Sarkozy made immigration a theme of his election campaign, and the bill, passed by both houses of parliament, builds on his previous immigration reforms.

It tightens the conditions under which immigrants' families may join them in France, and an amendment that originally would have imposed compulsory DNA testing has aroused heated debate.

The amendment has since been watered down to make the tests voluntary and based on the mother to avoid paternity disputes, and they will be paid for by the state rather than by immigrants themselves, but it remains highly controversial.

''This day will remain a day of shame,'' the rights group the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, known by the French acronym MRAP, said in a statement.

It compared the DNA tests, to be introduced for an 18-month trial period, to anti-Jewish discrimination under the World War Two Vichy government that collaborated with Nazi Germany.

''It will be the second time in France that biology will dictate the law for racist discriminatory aims,'' MRAP said.

The Socialist opposition has vowed to refer parts of the bill, including the DNA tests, to the Constitutional Council, which has the power to strike down legislation if it is not in keeping with the constitution.

The tests are meant to be used in cases where family records in the immigrant's home country are generally unreliable.

Left-wing members of Sarkozy's cabinet, plucked from the opposite side of the political spectrum, have come out against the bill, largely because of the DNA amendment, as have some right-wing lawmakers.

Many of the bill's opponents believe the tests unnecessarily introduce a suspicion that immigrants are cheating. They are also uncomfortable that a technique widely used on criminals would be applied to those who want to live in France.

Reuters AK VP0220

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