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France Begins Expelling Immigrant Students


France has begun expelling illegal immigrant school children, under a tough new immigration law. Thousands of youngsters risk being sent back to their countries of origin in the upcoming months. Lisa Bryant visited one young Malian student at a detention center at the Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris, who may be flown home this week.

Aminata Sambou came to France from Bamako, capital of Mali, four years ago, when she was just 15 years old. She says her parents had divorced, and neither wanted to care for her. So she headed to the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers, where he brother Mahmadou had been living for the past decade.

Today, the slight Malian student is housed with 140 or so other illegal immigrants in small, cement buildings at the edge of the Charles de Gaulle airport. Airplanes taxi in right across the street from the compound, which is surrounded by barbed wire.

Like thousands of other immigrant students in France, 19-year-old Sambou has been living in France illegally. She was finally caught last week, after she landed a summer job using false work papers.

Sambou spoke to a reporter at the compound where she was housed -- and later by telephone, because authorities would not permit the conversation to be recorded.

Sambou says her brother wanted her to stay and study in France because she had few options in Mali. Now, she hopes to study business at a French university.

But Sambou's dreams may end Thursday, when she appears in court for one last appeal. If she loses, French authorities will likely put her on the next plane to Bamako.

Under a new immigration law, thousands of illegal immigrant students may be expelled this year. The French government argues it cannot accept all the immigrants who flock here, particularly not those who came illegally. On Monday, French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said he would grant residents permits to about six-thousand illegal immigrants under a one-time only reprieve. That's fewer than half of those who applied for the reprieve -- which included Sambou.

Thousands of French teachers and parents are fighting for these students to remain -- including those at Sambou's high school. Her math teacher, Nicola Vespa, has taken on her cause.

Vespa says Sambou has already been uprooted once, and had to restart her life in France. Sambou is a serious and courageous student. If she can at least finish school in France, Vespa says, shell have a real future, even if she has to return to Mali afterward. But its unclear that argument will convince French justice officials at Sambou's hearing this week.

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