PARIS—The French government said Tuesday it would scale back plans to expel illegal immigrant families with children enrolled at French schools following a grassroots campaign against their deportation.
Family situations will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, with residence permits granted to those whose children were born in France and who do not speak the language of their country of origin, the interior ministry said.
“This is not a large-scale amnesty,” a ministry spokesman told AFP, saying each case would be examined by a committee made up of government officials and immigrant support groups.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was to give details of the plan during a speech later Tuesday to the Senate, as it starts debate on a new immigration law adopted by the lower house National Assembly last month.
The ministry gave no estimate of the number of families to be granted residence rights, although activists said they would represent only a tiny fraction of the total number facing expulsion.
France’s centre-right governmnent has vowed to step up the deportation of illegal immigrants—who number 200,000 to 400,000 in the country—as part of a toughening of immigration policy backed by three-quarters of the public.
Families with children enrolled at school had been given the right to remain until the end of the school year on June 30, at which point state officials were under instructions to arrest and conduct them to the border.
To encourage families to leave, the interior ministry recently lifted the relocation funds paid to illegal immigrants, from EUR 150 to 2,000 per person, plus EUR 1,000 per child under 18.
The Education Without Borders Network (RESF), which is campaigning for all the children and families concerned to be given French residence permits, dismissed the announcement as a token gesture.
RESF—which had previously said some 10,000 children were at risk of deportation—now believes at least 50,000 families to be concerned, based on interior ministry figures, he said.
“As many as 100,000 children of illegal immigrants are enrolled in French schools, so this so-called humanitarian gesture will reach a mere one or two percent,” said RESF spokesman Richard Moyon.
Schoolteachers, parents and activists in the RESF network say many of the children are well-integrated and thriving in the French school system, and that to deport them would go against the principles of the republic.
Since late April, more than 40,000 people have signed an RESF petition against what they denounce as a ‘childhunt’—pledging to “sponsor, protect and house” the children and their families, even it if means breaking the law.