French Parliament Divided Over Immigration Reform

PARIS -- French Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre defended Tuesday a disputed bill to combat illegal immigration as a rampart against racism and xenophobia, as parliament began a final reading amid fresh protests.

In an acrimonious debate punctuated by incessant heckling, Socialist opposition floor leader Laurent Fabius attacked the proposed law as "ineffectual, dangerous and Kafkaesque."

He accused the conservative government of seeking to implement part of the extreme-right National Front's platform in the hope of "appeasing the evil beast" while, at the same time, shelving a bill to strengthen the fight against racism.

"Beware! The apple rarely eats the worm," he said, pledging that a left-wing government would repeal the law as one of its first priorities.

Debre insisted that the bill -- to tighten controls and make it easier to expel illegal aliens -- was "balanced" and accused left-wing critics of "lies, hypocrisy and manipulation."

Prime Minister Alain Juppe said in an article in the newspaper Le Monde that the bill's critics were playing into the hands of the National Front by blurring the distinction between legal and illegal immigration.

In an earlier radio interview, Debre used an argument often brandished by Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in suggesting that recent immigrants were welfare scroungers.

Parliament's legal committee has removed the bill's most fiercely contested clause, which would have required hosts to report to the police when foreign guests subject to visa requirements left their homes. Instead, foreigners on short-term visas will be required to report their own departure to the authorities and government prefects, instead of local mayors, will be responsible for issuing "accommodation certificates."

Campaigners against the bill led an estimated 100,000-strong demonstration in Paris on Saturday to demand the complete withdrawal of the legislation.