France Says New Bill to Tighten Immigration Will Fight Racism

France's new bill to tighten controls on immigration will help fight racism, the interior minister said, defending his plan against the concerns of religious leaders.

Nicholas Sarkozy, a leading potential candidate for the 2007 presidential election, said in an interview published Thursday in Le Monde that his plan will ensure immigrants are integrated better.

Sarkozy argues that France should take a more pro-active approach to immigration by hand-picking foreign workers. His arguments gained resonance after riots ripped through heavily immigrant French suburbs last fall.

"We had to react because our system of integration is broken, which means that the children of immigrants born in France feel less French than their parents, who are in fact foreigners," Sarkozy said.

Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox authorities wrote Tuesday to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to communicate "serious concern" over the bill, saying they fear it will limit the number of illegal immigrants eligible for French nationality.

CountryWatch: France

Many on the left accuse Sarkozy of courting far-right voters. Last week, he said that immigrants who don't like France "shouldn't be afraid to leave," echoing an extreme-right slogan.

Sarkozy says, however, that his intention is to fight the far right. He said measures like his are already in force in "most nations of the world."

"And in those nations, racism and far-right parties are not as powerful as in ours," he said. "In short, it's a shield against racism. We should ponder this."