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France and its deportation of Roma (Gypsies) -- echoes of the US?

President Sarkozy of France is being criticized and praised for deporting Roma. He says they are in the country illegally and are committing crimes. The drama shares similarities with the US illegal immigration debate, but not on all levels.

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This summer’s stories from France about the deportations of some 700 Roma, or Gypsies, might sound familiar to Americans embroiled in the debate over illegal immigration.

The French government says it’s cracking down on crimes committed by Roma and breaking up their illegal camps. The Obama administration, too, is making crime a priority in deportations of illegal aliens.

The political atmosphere in both countries is also highly charged.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy faces dismal approval ratings and has been dogged by corruption scandals among his ministers. Critics say his high-profile crackdown on the Roma is an attempt to change the subject and attract voters who favor far-right candidates. They also say it’s inhumane.

They are shocked, too, that Mr. Sarkozy has proposed a list of crimes for which naturalized foreign-born people would lose their French citizenship. The list includes endangering police, female circumcision, polygamy, and domestic slavery. (In the United
States, a push is on to drop automatic citizenship for US-born children of illegal immigrants.)

The French president’s actions against the Roma and his proposals relating to foreigners – and also his support for a burqa ban on Muslim women – have divided the country and his government. In the US, too, a new anti-illegal immigration law in Arizona has roiled American politics in advance of this fall’s elections.

But the Roma deportations also ring with a European timbre. About 10 million to 12 million Roma live in countries that are now members of the European Union, having left their homeland in India in the 11th century. Many of today’s Roma live in central and eastern Europe.

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