Minister Sparks Anger Over French Birthright Laws

Marcel Michelson, Reuters, Sept. 18

PARIS—France’s minister for overseas affairs provoked outrage this weekend by saying illegal immigrants were giving birth on French territory to ensure their children had French nationality.

Francois Baroin called for a debate on France’s birthright laws, challenging a taboo at the heart of France’s near-sacred republican values. It was a fresh sign mainstream politicians are jumping on France’s right-wing anti-immigration bandwagon.

A child born on French ground is French, irrespective of parentage. Baroin said on Saturday that parents expecting children were immigrating illegally to France’s overseas territories to give birth to French children.

“I have seen things that have shocked me and on the basis of these truths on the ground I want to reopen the debate. The law permits it,” he told Radio France Outre-mer (RFO) in a rare outspoken interview by a usually low-profile minister.

He said that on the island of Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean Comoros archipelago, “more than 30 percent of the inhabitants are of illegal origin”.

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In the weekly Figaro magazine, Baroin went a step further and said discussing the law of birthright even on mainland France “should no longer be a taboo”.

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Some moderate, right-of-centre politicians are talking tough on immigration to boost their standing as they jockey for position ahead of the next elections.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the centre-right government’s number two, has made tackling illegal immigration a plank of his campaign to become France’s next president in 2007.

And the cabinet is drawing up laws to reorient French immigration policy at Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin’s behest.

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