The French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been accused of interfering for electoral reasons in the allocation of residence permits to immigrants.
Politicians from the left and the far right accused M. Sarkozy of mishandling, and then meddling in, a plan to legalise illegal migrants who had children in French schools. The allegations are embarrassing for M. Sarkozy, who looks certain to be the main centre-right candidate in the presidential elections next spring.
Ségolène Royal, the front-runner to be the Socialist presidential candidate, said M. Sarkozy had been caught out in a "public lie".
In June, M. Sarkozy announced plans to crack down on illegal immigration and expel anyone found to be living in France without official papers. After an outcry about the possible expulsion of French-born children, M. Sarkozy issued a circular to government officials asking them to give residence papers to any families well "integrated" in French life, especially to those with children in school.
M. Sarkozy expected a few thousand people to apply, but government offices were besieged by applicants, many from China and the Philippines. He said their applications would be treated case by case.
M. Sarkozy issued instructions that the applications should be examined rigorously but insisted that there would be no quota.
He announced on Monday that 6,924 out of 30,000 applicants had been given papers. Support groups for migrants protested that - despite M. Sarkozy's assurances - a ceiling had clearly been placed on the number of permits issued. It was also obvious, they said, that anyone whose application was processed early had a better chance than those which were delayed.
Mme Royal said M. Sarkozy had promised a case by case approval system. Now, "as if by luck", the numbers of legalised migrants had been strictly limited. "He has been caught out in a public lie," she said.
Christine Auclair, who ran a group to help illegal migrants to prepare their applications, said: "The [Sarkozy proposal] raised great hopes among many people who fulfilled the criteria. Now their great fear is expulsion. They now know that their names and addresses are on a list held by the authorities."Reuse content