By Elaine Ganley
1:28 p.m. June 4, 2007
PARIS – France set tough new quotas for the number of illegal immigrants authorities should arrest and expel each month, the new immigration minister said Monday.
Brice Hortefeux, who heads the newly created Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development, said a monthly quota also would be set for ferreting out those employed in France illegally.
In a meeting with security officials, Hortefeux reiterated President Nicolas Sarkozy’s goal of 25,000 expulsions by the end of 2007 – compared with 24,000 in 2006 – and set a year-end goal of 125,000 arrests for alleged illegal entry or illegal residence, a ministry statement said. The number of those already arrested was not immediately clear.
Sarkozy, who was elected May 6, pledged during his campaign to create a ministry of immigration and national identity to rein in the flow of migrants and ensure they are integrated into French society. Riots in French housing projects in 2005 were largely driven by anger among children of immigrants at persistent discrimination and a feeling of alienation from mainstream society.
Hortefeux said the new measures were aimed at “dismantling networks that exploit the misery of illegal immigrants,” the statement said.
His orders came after he and Prime Minister Francois Fillon visited a holding center for illegal immigrants Monday – and three days after the bodies of 18 illegal immigrants were fished from the Mediterranean by the crew of a French frigate.
The dead – 12 men, two adolescent boys and four women – were believed to be seeking new lives in Europe, though it was not clear what country they were coming from. They will be buried in France.
“The French Republic will be extremely firm. It will ensure laws are applied,” Fillon said, adding: “Naturally, these laws must be applied with the greatest humanity.”
Many saw Sarkozy’s proposal as a nod to the electorate on the extreme right, which long has made fighting immigration one of its main causes.
“Generosity is not opening wide the borders without thought for how people will integrate, how they will live, how they will subsist,” Fillon said.
Hortefeux, in his meeting with security officials, also insisted on the need to develop a system of paying illegal immigrants to voluntarily return home, setting the number of paid departures at 2,500 for this year – a 25 percent increase from 2006.
Those volunteering to leave, as part of a program started in late 2005, are given a fixed sum of money, normally $4,700 per couple, with $1,350 each for the first three children.