Controversial French immigration bill heads to parliament

France introduced a toughened immigration bill on Tuesday that calls for voluntary DNA testing as well as proof would-be immigrants can speak French.

France introduced a toughened immigration bill on Tuesday that calls for voluntary DNA testing as well as proof that would-be immigrants can speak French — controversial measures that have outraged human rights groups and even drawn the ire of members of President Nicolas Sarkozy's own party.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking today in Paris, is moving ahead on election promises of tougher immigration policies. ((Benoit Tessier/Associated Press))

The new billfollows through on Sarkozy'selection pledge to crack down on illegal immigration and to reinvigorate the economy.

The leftist opposition, as well as some civil liberties groups, planned to oppose the legislation, arguing that it's racist.

Sarkozy, who was elected in May, alsofaced opposition from members of hisnew government.

Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara said that "as the daughter of immigrants," she was hurt by the proposalsto haveimmigrant candidates submit tolanguage testing and DNA samples to prove family relations between immigrants and relatives they want to bring into the country.

"What bothers me is that this heaps shame on foreigners who want to come to us. That shocks me," Amara said.

Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also added his voice to the chorus of condemnation.

For his part, Sarkozy has contended the measures will help increase the proportion of skilled immigrants whocome toFrance strictly to seek work to 50 per cent.

Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux defended the bill, but he has been careful to clarify that the last-minute DNA amendment was not his work. Rather, it was proposed by another lawmaker in Sarkozy's party, Thierry Mariani.

Hortefeux has been the target of heavy criticism for promising to expel 25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year.

He insisted the DNA tests would be strictly voluntary, but they would be at the expense of the applicant.

The government contends that nearly a dozen other European countries already use DNA testing to ferret out fraud.

The immigration bill is widely expected to clear the lower house in a vote later in the week, and the upper house of parliament will debate the bill next month.

With files from the Associated Press