France grants residency to some 7,000 illegal immigrants
France has selected nearly 7,000 illegal immigrants out of 30,000 applicants to benefit from a special one-off measure granting them permanent residency, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday.
Sarkozy, the conservative frontrunner for a presidential election next year, tightened residency rules after suburban youths -- many of them descendants of immigrants -- staged violent riots in poor neighborhoods last year.
But he announced in June that some illegal immigrants could be granted residency status if their children attended French schools, were born here or had come to France at a very young age and had a "real willingness to integrate".
"The exact number of people that have been legalized ... is 6,924," Sarkozy said in a France 2 television interview to be broadcast later on Monday.
Sarkozy rejected criticism from rights groups who said the criteria for choosing those granted residency was arbitrary and called for a mass amnesty for all the 30,000 illegal immigrants who had applied to the scheme.
"If you have been in France for 3 to 4 years and you don't speak a word of French, that is not a sign of someone wanting to integrate. Tell me how you can integrate in France if you don't speak a word of French," Sarkozy said.
Hundreds of people have campaigned against the expulsion of illegal immigrant families in past months, saying the government tried to use children registered at French schools as a way of tracking down families without residency papers.
A new law by Sarkozy makes it harder for resident immigrants to bring family members here, forces newcomers to take French civic lessons and rescinds the right of illegal migrants to apply for a residence permit after 10 years in France.
The law has triggered large protests in France and former colonies in West Africa, with critics saying it hurts immigrants who are already living on the margins of society.
The debate gathered steam when police evicted hundreds of people -- many of them immigrants -- from an area outside Paris last month. Some 200 people are still camping in a gym, refusing to move until they are given permanent housing.
About 4.9 million immigrants live in France, official data shows. Officials estimate 200,000 to 400,000 foreigners live in the country illegally.
France and the illegal immigrants from Africa