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Statistics institute: legal immigration stable for last 20 years

February 27, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Amid intense debate over proposals to tighten immigration laws, a survey released Thursday finds that the proportion of legal immigrants in France is the same as it was 20 years ago.

Legal immigrants make up 7.4 percent of France’s population _ the same figure as in 1975, according to the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies.

The study did not address illegal immigration, which the conservative government says is the target of its controversial bill, likely to be voted on Thursday in the National Assembly.

For that reason, the far-right National Front criticized the study as incomplete and inaccurate.

``It does not take into account the real portion of foreigners in France,″ said Damien Bariller of the party’s political bureau.

The party, backed by about 15 percent of the population, blames a host of social ills on immigration, including France’s record-high 12.7 percent unemployment, and says that non-French are emptying the nation’s social-security coffers.

Opponents of the proposed immigration bill say the government is bowing to far-right pressure. The European parliament has urged France to drop the bill, leading France’s foreign minister to chastise the body Wednesday for interfering in French affairs.

``Once again, I regret to have to confirm that the European Parliament isn’t a body worthy of the name,″ Foreign Minister Herve de Charette said.

A miffed European parliament head, President Jose Maria Gil-Robles, who was visiting Paris, promptly canceled a scheduled stop at de Charette’s office, pending an apology.

Gil-Robles said he would like to believe that de Charette’s words were ``a slip of the tongue.″

A protest march Tuesday night in Paris led to scattered rioting, even though the most contested element of the bill _ a requirement that residents declare the departure of foreign guests _ was removed.

The institute, known as INSEE, said that while the percentage of immigrants is unchanged from 20 years ago, their portrait has changed. While most of those who came to France in waves after World War II and during the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s were male workers, today the bulk of the immigration is families, according to INSEE.

Also, the main countries of origin have changed from European nations to those in Africa and Asia. The highest number of immigrants come from Portugal, followed by Algeria, Italy, Morocco and Spain, INSEE said.

National Front spokesman Bariller said his party would release its own study this week showing 6.3 million foreigners in France, 1.2 million of them illegal. It would show that immigrants account for 10 percent of the population, he said.

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