Stemming illegal immigration is one of the new president's priorities [File: EPA]

One of the cornerstones of the campaign that saw Nicolas Sarkozy elected French president in May was his promise to stem illegal immigration.

Yet his latest attempt to do so has been described by some critics as unjustifiable, discriminatory and arbitrary and is dividing public opinion.

A bill currently being debated in the French parliament would encourage potential immigrants wishing to join family members already in France to undergo a DNA test to prove they are related.

The test would be voluntary and would be conducted when officials have doubts about birth and marriage certificates.

Some refugees in Paris described the test as a small price to pay.

"If you are going to bring my family, then I can give you my DNA to test my mother and sister," one said, "It's no problem."

Gemechis Bobo, who comes from Ethiopia, said: "This is very important, it will open the door for legal immigrants to come to France and block illegal ones."

Language test

The DNA test is part of a wider bill that, if approved, would mean that relatives seeking to join family members in France would also have to take a language test before they are approved for a visa.

A minimum required revenue would also be set for immigrants seeking to bring family members into France and would require parents who join family members in France to sign an "immigration contract".

Souhayr Belhassen, the president of the international federation of human rights, says France is being turned into a "xenophobic state".

"These measures are absolutely unjustifiable, this is a discriminatory measure, an arbitrary measure," she told Al Jazeera.

The government, however, believes it has public support for the measure.

Thierry Mariani, the MP from Sarkozy's ruling UMP party who drew up the bill, acknowledges the measure is controversial but cites the fact that DNA testing has been successfully used by other EU countries for some time.

"This is controversial, but it doesn't pose any problems in other countries where individual freedoms are as respected as they are in France," he told Al Jazeera.

"DNA testing has existed for many years and it has been successful and it has existed because we look at what is practical before creating a polemic."

Expulsions

But campaigners warn that voluntary DNA testing could later be made obligatory.

The Socialist-led opposition is opposing the bill in parliament and Sarkozy has even faced some criticism from within his own ranks.

Fadela Amara, the urban affairs minister, is the daughter of immigrants and said she was hurt by the proposals.

"What bothers me is that this heaps shame on foreigners who want to come to us. That shocks me," she said.

Sarkozy has defended the immigration bill saying it will help achieve his goal of limiting the number of non-skilled immigrants to France.

He and his immigration minister have already attracted some criticism from rights groups over their pledge to expel about 25,000 illegal immigrants from France by the end of this year.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies