French Minister Defends Bill on Losing Citizenship

Elaine Ganley, WTOP-FM (Washington, D.C.), September 28, 2010

Does France have second-class citizens? A new bill introduced Tuesday in parliament aimed at toughening immigration rules would strip naturalized citizens of their nationality if they threaten the lives of police.

Opponents say the measure would drive a new wedge between those born French and those who become French in a country that sees itself as a haven for the world’s oppressed.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been languishing for months in opinion polls, initiated the measure as a means to quash crime, but some worry that the proposed law would create two types of French in a risky bid to entice far-right sympathizers to his conservative camp.

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The bill “lays the first stones of a European project,” he said, noting that the bill largely satisfies the terms of an EU immigration pact that all 27 members must translate into law.

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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.

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However, concern was above all focused on the amendment that would strip citizenship from people naturalized less than 10 years ago if they endanger police or other authorities.

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Some 45 associations, human rights, aid and religious groups, were holding a demonstration outside the National Assembly. Like the conservative government’s leftist opposition, many of them 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. Americans, too, can lose their citizenship if convicted of commiting treason or swearing an oath of allegiance to another country–but not through conviction of a violent crime.

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“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.

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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,” 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.”

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