Second class French citizens?

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A proposal to strip French citizenship of foreign-born offenders who put the lives of public officers in danger, by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has been denounced by opposition as a measure that would create several categories of French citizens. Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party, Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), wants to introduce legislative amendments to give legal effect to the proposal as early as next month. The opposition, human rights organizations and several French intellectuals have condemned the initiative.

Fueling controversy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to revoke the French citizenship of offenders of foreign descent has found its way into the rank and file of the majority. Tuesday, Immigration Minister Eric Besson said in a radio interview that he would propose legislative amendments to give legal effect to Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal.

Friday, in the city of Grenoble, — where tensions have been rife since the death of a casino robber killed in a shootout with the French police –President Nicolas Sarkozy directly warned offenders who have obtained French citizenship through naturalization. “French nationality should be stripped from anybody who has threatened the life of a police officer or anybody involved in public policing” Sarkozy said.

“Nationality is earned and you have to be worthy of it” he continued. Sunday, French interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, suggested a further extension of Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to cases like female genital mutilation, human trafficking or serious acts of delinquency.

Foreigners treated like criminals

These remarks have provoked strong protests. “I oppose the idea of several categories of French citizens (…) the president talks about urban policy, immigration and security and then … the stigmatization of a part of the [French] population,” Michel Denisot, Socialist mayor of Grenoble denounced Friday.

The same day the President of the League of Human Rights (LDH), Michel Tubiana, stressed on the same point: “A speech on crime mainly focused on the subject of withdrawal of nationality, on immigration, after holding a meeting on gypsies and the Roma people, it is assimilating foreigners and persons of foreign descent with crime, those who steal food from the French,” he said.

Monday in an interview with the Le Figaro, a daily newspaper, Patrick Weil, a historian who specializes on issues that touch on nationality and immigration in France, traced the history of the withdrawal of French nationality from 1848. He explained that it has always been an exceptional measure, in most cases limited to treasonable offenses against the state.


And according to Eric Besson, a constitutional amendment may not be necessary to introduce the new provisions on the withdrawal of nationality. “Going back to the rule of law that existed before 1998: basically, the withdrawal of French nationality affected all those who had committed crimes punishable by five years in prison, crimes committed within the first ten years of their acquisition of the French nationality “, he said Tuesday.

The proposal will be introduced during a debate on immigration, national integration and access to nationality on September 27

If these amendments are adopted, France would become the first developed country to extend the process of denaturalization into such areas. In the UK and the U.S., this procedure is primarily invoked in cases related to terrorism.

In Italy where the Northern League, a far-right party represented in Silvio Berlusconi’s government, proposed tighter residence conditions for foreigners, whatever their administrative status, the withdrawal of nationality was out of the question. The proposal, made last March by the Northern League, concerned the establishment of a point based residence permit.

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