The European parliament has passed tough new immigration guidelines that sparked protests on the part of human rights groups and some lawmakers.  For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

European governments had already approved the new immigration measures, but they still awaited passage by the European parliament.  That happened Wednesday.  

The guidelines allow the European Union's 27 members to hold illegal immigrants for up to 18 months in special detention centers before deporting them.  That is considerably longer than current detention policies in most EU countries - but members are not required to adopt the longer limits.

Those expelled also face a five-year re-entry ban applicable for the entire bloc.  But governments must first give the immigrants a chance to leave the country voluntarily - and they are required to offer those detained free legal advice and other basic rights.

Those supporting the measures, including EU Commissioner Jacques Barrot, argue they safeguard rights for legal immigrants while setting common European standards for illegal ones.

Barrot says Europe does not want to be a closed fortress.  It will continue to welcome immigrants from elsewhere - just as it does now - and remain faithful to offering asylum to those needing it.  But he says the European Union cannot accept illegal immigration, which he argues is not fair to anyone.

But critics like Nicolas Berger, director of Amnesty International's Brussels office, claim the new immigration guidelines are unfair.

"We have mainly got two concerns about this reform directive," Berger said.  "One is the length of detention.  People [can] get detained for one-and-a-half years and these are people who have not committed any crime."

Amnesty is also worried that the five-year re-entry ban could hurt those who truly need asylum.

"Europe is for us going in the wrong direction here quite a bit in terms of continuing this discourse of scapegoating immigrants, of putting immigrants and asylum seekers in the same box as criminals and connecting them to terrorism without looking at reality and individual cases," Berger said.

About eight million illegal immigrants reside in the European Union, according to the bloc's estimates.  More than 200,000 were arrested in the first half of last year - but less than 90,000 were expelled.