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France passes bill allowing DNA tests for immigrants

[JURIST] The French parliament passed a strict immigration bill [text; dossier, both in French] Tuesday that requires language and cultural knowledge tests, as well as optional DNA testing, for immigrants who want to join their families in France. The bill was passed by French Senate [official website] in a 185-136 vote earlier this month after French Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux [official profile, in French] made last-minute changes [Reuters report] to the DNA test section and the lower parliamentary house, the National Assembly [official website], passed the bill 282-235 Tuesday. Under the version adopted, the tests will be optional, sponsored by the state, will test only an applicant's maternal side so as to avoid potential disputes over paternity and will require the approval of a magistrate. Earlier versions of the bill [JURIST report] provided for mandatory testing. The DNA tests are meant primarily to verify family ties to French residents for potential immigrants who lack family records and to speed up the immigration process, but that provision has proved highly controversial. Critics argue that genetics should not be used to determine citizenship eligibility and opposition lawmakers have promised to challenge the law before France's Constitutional Court. BBC News has more. Reuters has additional coverage.

The bill follows a campaign promise by French President Nicolas Sarkozy [official profile] to toughen the country's immigration policy, a move already begun by the introduction of deportation quotas seeking to expel 25,000 illegal immigrants in 2007. Prior to assuming the presidency [JURIST report], Sarkozy also took a tough stance on immigration while serving as interior minister. In February 2006, he proposed legislation [JURIST report] to enable the government to expel immigrants who did not make sufficient efforts to integrate in French society and seek work. In June 2006, the French parliament passed a conservative immigration bill [JURIST report] that tightened restrictions on unskilled, non-EU immigrants and required immigrants to sign a pledge to learn French and to abide by French law. In September 2006, Sarkozy announced that France had granted amnesty [JURIST report] to 6,924 illegal immigrants with school-age children, even though thousands more had applied. The move was criticized as "totally arbitrary" - an assertion that Sarkozy denied.

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