The push by France's Socialist government after the Paris attacks to revoke the citizenship of convicted terrorists with dual nationality has turned into a harsh political dispute, with the far right applauding the move and some on the left expressing indignation over what they call a divisive measure.
French President François Hollande submitted the proposal three days after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead, in a shift to a hard line on security. The idea appears to have strong support in French public opinion. Several polls over the past week suggest that 80 to 90 percent of the French are in favor of the measure.
Under French law, citizenship revocation may be applied only to people who have been naturalized, not if they are French born, and the step is rarely taken.
The new rules would extend it to all dual nationals; it may not be applied to people who are citizens of only French, because France's obligations under international law prevent it from leaving a person stateless.
Opponents of the measure say it would create two classes of citizens — dual nationals who could lose their citizenship and others who cannot — in opposition to the principle of equality set out in France's constitution.
French authorities have not said how many of those arrested over the Paris attacks are dual nationals.
Prominent Socialist Party figures, including former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, have publicly expressed their disapproval, but Hollande has stuck to his guns. "France must take the good decisions beyond traditional party divisions," he said in a New Year's Eve speech.
While the left is divided, Hollande is getting unusual support from the right. The far-right National Front has claimed that it originated the idea. "Terrorists don't deserve French citizenship, because French citizenship is an honor," the vice president of the party, Florian Philippot, told France Info radio.
Other members of the conservative opposition, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy, have also largely supported the proposal, while calling for more security measures.
The government says the new measure would apply to very few people.
The issue remains highly sensitive in France, as some have compared it to the revocation of citizenship of Jews and members of the French Resistance during World War II, when the Vichy government collaborated with German authorities. The regime revoked the citizenship of more than 15,000 naturalized and 500 French-born people, including Gen. Charles de Gaulle.
"It's dangerous because you start wanting to revoke the citizenship of some people, then take a step further," said Socialist Sen. Samia Ghali.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended the action this week. "This is a strong symbolic act that punishes those who excluded themselves from the national community. Nothing less, nothing more," he said in a written statement. France first adopted the revocation of citizenship in 1848 for those who refused to accept the abolition of slavery, he recalled.
The constitutional change, to be debated in Parliament in February, requires a minimum three-fifths majority vote from lawmakers.
About 50 human rights and anti-racist organizations and unions have launched a petition to reject the measure.
Some human rights defenders consider the proposal implicitly targets France's Muslim community, the largest in Western Europe, including many French-born with Moroccan, Tunisian or Algerian origins.
The Paris attacks were carried out in the name of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, largely by French and Belgian fighters. Some of them were of Moroccan descent.
The possibility of revoking the citizenship of all dual nationals — not only the naturalized ones — exists in Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.
In the U.S., a person may have his or her naturalization revoked for being a member of the Communist Party, a totalitarian party or a terrorist organization within five years of naturalization. The measure does not apply to natural-born U.S. citizens.
The Associated Press