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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sarkozy's Battle Takes a Toll on Immigrants

PARIS -- A Russian boy suffers head injuries after falling from a window while trying to elude police. A North African man slips from a window ledge and fractures his leg while fleeing officers. A Chinese woman lies in a coma after plunging from a window during a police check.

As France races to meet a target of deporting 25,000 illegal immigrants by the end of the year -- a quota set by President Nicolas Sarkozy -- tensions are mounting and the crackdown is taking a toll.

Critics say the hunt threatens values that underpin life in a nation that prides itself on being a cradle of human rights and a land of asylum. With three months left in the year, police have caught at least 11,800 immigrants, less than half the target, so Sarkozy has ordered his law-and-order team to pick up the pace.

"I want numbers," Sarkozy reportedly told Brice Hortefeux, the minister in charge of the crackdown. "This is a campaign commitment. The French expect [action] on this."

Hortefeux is head of the Orwellian-sounding Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development, which Sarkozy set up after taking office in May. The president, who cultivated a tough-on-crime image while serving as interior minister, has made controlling immigration a major priority. He says France needs a new kind of immigrant -- one who is "selected, not endured."

On Sept. 12, Hortefeux summoned prefects from 19 regions with low expulsion numbers for a "mobilization meeting."

Sarkozy's government is fast-tracking tighter immigration legislation. The parliament's lower house on Thursday approved a bill that would allow consular officers to request DNA samples from immigrants trying to join relatives in France. Even some Cabinet ministers dislike the measure, which critics say betrays France's humanitarian values.

The DNA tests would be voluntary, and proponents say such testing, which would get a trial run until 2010, would speed visa processing and give immigrants a way to bolster their residency applications.

Sarkozy said Thursday that France should not stop at this new bill. He proposed immigration quotas by regions of the world and by occupation.

"I want us to be able to establish each year, after a debate in parliament, a quota with a ceiling for the number of foreigners we accept on our territory," he said.

The admission of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union in January poses an unusual problem because the two countries' citizens -- who represented a huge chunk of illegal immigrants in France -- can no longer be arrested for being in France.

There are no solid estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in France. The immigration ministry puts it at 200,000 to 400,000, many from former colonies in Africa. European countries to the south, like Italy or Spain, face a greater challenge from illegal immigrants than France -- but neither has set itself targets for expelling them.