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Immigration law under heated debate ahead of vote

February 27, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Conservative lawmakers pushed an immigration bill through the lower house with ease Thursday, overcoming protests and calls for more civil disobedience from French who feared being forced to denounce foreigners.

Opposition deputies kept up their attack until the late-night vote, even though the bill’s most contested element officially was killed by lawmakers the night before.

The proposed legislation, opposed by the Socialists and Communists, would strengthens a strict 1993 law that made it easier for officials to deport immigrants. It would impact illegal immigration from former French colonies in Africa the most.

The bill had been expected to pass in the lower house, which is solidly controlled by the governing center-right coalition. The bill now goes to the Senate, also controlled by the conservatives, for a March 11 vote.

With less than one-third of the 577-seat National Assembly present for Thursday’s balloting, the 113-61 vote was a lackluster anti-climax to two weeks of debate. Low attendance is common in votes on bills certain to pass.

Before the vote, Socialist Party leader Lionel Jospin denounced the bill, saying it ``points a finger at foreigners as a dangerous element.″

The bill, he said, ``echoes the discourse of the National Front,″ the extreme-right party opposed to immigration.

Late Wednesday, lawmakers voted to remove a provision requiring French hosts to inform authorities of the departure of certain foreign guests. The requirement had sparked protests by intellectuals, artists and others.

Some people compared the law to the World War II Vichy regime, when citizens denounced Jews to the government collaborating with the Nazis.

Now, it would require the foreigners themselves _ not the hosts _ to report their departures by turning in a lodging certificate at the airport as they leave. Most industrialized countries are exempt from the new checks.

The certificate giving the guest permission to come to France still must be obtained by the host, continuing a practice started in 1983 under the former Socialist government. But under the new bill, it is state-appointed regional authorities, rather than the locally elected mayor, who grants foreign guests permission to enter France.

Longtime residents also no longer would be able to automatically renew their 10-year residency cards. They must first prove they are not ``a threat to public order″ and that they maintain a ``regular residence″ in France _ an effort to crack down on fake addresses.

Among other measures, the law allows police to search workplaces for illegal employees. They would be able to search immigrants’ vehicles and confiscate the passports of foreigners lacking required residency papers.

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