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France Deports Children of Undocumented Immigrants

Claudia Núñez

La Opinión

PARIS—To save herself from being deported, Azérien ran and hid under the bed. The police didn’t try to drag her out from under the bed, but they threatened to arrest her mother who is Armenian. The 7-year-old girl surrendered.

For children of undocumented immigrants, life in Paris is no fairy tale of castles and royalty. Even though they were born in France, the fear of deportation is common. Unlike the United States, France does not give children born to undocumented immigrants citizenship by birth.

In 2005, a presidential decree ordered the expulsion of the children of undocumented immigrants. Under this new regulation, "the children of undocumented immigrants should be escorted out of France.”

There is an underlying fear among immigrant families. Some parents have chosen to hide or deny that they have children when they are arrested and deported by authorities, said Anthony Jahn, leader of the organization Education Without Borders (RESF), a network of 130 associations of teachers and parents that has launched a campaign to protect immigrant children.

“What they’re doing to these kids is horrible and we’re not going to let the authorities destroy their lives,” Jahn told La Opinión. "They are our future and they have the same rights as any other French child."

The expulsion of children is part of a policy introduced by former Interior Minister and current French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is trying to reshape France’s identity and defends the law by arguing that France must “choose” its immigrants.

But miles away, Sarkozy’s immigration model seems to be gaining supporters.

In July of this year, a similar bill was introduced by anti-immigrant groups in California, who blame the undocumented and their children for the country’s financial crisis.

The bill, called the California Taxpayer Protection Act 2010 (CPTA-2010), aims to deny U.S. citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants in California.

Like his French political colleague, Tony Dolz, candidate for Congress in District 30, is calling for babies to return with their parents when they are deported.

In Paris, police are arresting young people in schools or public parks, according to Christophe Piedra of the refugee center La Cimade, speaking to a group of reporters invited by the French American Foundation.

The decree also gives a sentence of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 30,000 Euros (about $35,000) for anyone who helps immigrant children.

"Donations for centers like ours have dropped terribly because of the campaign to criminalize the undocumented and blame them for ills like the economic crisis or the lack of jobs, but we still have a lot of citizens who see immigration as a humanitarian issue," said Piedra.

Children’s Fears

The winter cold permeates their bones. Across from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, hundreds of tourists mix with a small crowd that carries photographs of incarcerated children and crying mothers hugging their kids.

They are protesting the mass deportation of the children of undocumented immigrants. In 2007 more than 250 children were expelled. Last year, a record 27,796 foreigners were repatriated.

Among tourists and activists, dozens of children accompany their parents, their cheeks rosy in the cold weather.

Angela’s icy little hand holds on tight to her younger brother, Didier, who is desperate to run to his Nigerian mother as she walks through the crowd.

Angela tries to speak English, but she gets frustrated. She prefers French, her native language by birth, even though this country does not consider her to be a legal citizen.

“Ce n’est pas juste que nous criminaliser (It’s not fair that they discriminate against us)," she says angrily. She is only nine years and words like humanity, compassion and criminalization come out easily.

Like the other children attending the protest, Angela confesses that she has never set foot in the Eiffel Tower nor seen the famous Musée du Louvre. Life for them is confined to a ghetto, the slums of France where the stories of dozens of French children in danger of being deported are collected.

As 6:00 p.m. approaches, the bells of the cathedral, located in the city’s fourth district, echo and silence the voices of the demonstrators.

Located in the small Ile de la Cité, surrounded by the Seine river, this Catholic church attracts thousands of tourists a year. It also draws dozens of protesters who recently decided to make it the center of their struggle for children’s rights.

“At first they tried to run us out of here, arguing that we were setting a bad example for foreign tourism, but the people didn’t allow it and we’re still here,” explains Jahn.

The tourists show little interest in the demonstrators, but great enthusiasm for getting their photos taken in front of this Catholic symbol that was built in 1245.

Angela and the other children are used to being ignored by the foreigners, just as they are used to being called “les sans-papiers” (the undocumented).

As night falls, she and her parents pick up their signs and begin their journey back home on the metro. For them, all of whom were born in Paris, the city is no fairy tale.

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