On the May morning that the police came for him, Yannick Assi was
getting ready for school. "It took me by surprise, I wasn't
expecting the police," remembers the lanky 16-year-old.
"I was taking a shower, and then the doorbell rang."
Three plainclothes officers were standing outside the family's
home in a wealthy Berlin suburb.
They took the frightened boy to a detention center and told his
father, Adiepo Assi, to pack no more than 44 pounds of luggage.
The next day, the authorities planned to deport Yannick to his
native Ivory Coast.
Thanks to a judge's last-minute intervention, Yannick was
released, but only after Mr. Assi agreed to send the boy back to
Africa "voluntarily" at the end of July, once the school year is
"Germany doesn't want my child," sighs the exasperated father. "I
dream every day that when I come home from work, there's a letter
from the authorities saying that my child can stay."
That possibility is highly unlikely. Since last summer, the
Ivorian electrical engineer - who has lived legally in Berlin for
15 years and is married to a German - has been fighting a
Kafkaesque battle against the authorities.
The Assi family's travails underscore the deep ambivalence in
German society toward immigration, perhaps the country's most
divisive issue. Although the mainstream political parties have
largely agreed that immigration is necessary for Germany to compete
in the global economy and to fill a projected future labor
shortage, this new openness is accompanied by the old German
attitude that foreign workers are merely "guests" here - not
Yesterday, a special commission on immigration presented its
recommendations to the government, which include more programs to
integrate migrants and the urgent passage of legislation regulating
immigration. According to some estimates, Germany needs more than
300,000 immigrants yearly just to maintain its present population.
Family reunification is hotly debated, with some conservatives
arguing that only children up to the age of 10 should be allowed to
join their parents here. And while Germany has ratified the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it gives precedent
to its own legislation, which regards foreigners under the age of
16 as minors - not under 18, as in the UN Convention.
In 1999, there were some 33,000 deportations from Germany. No
official numbers exist on the deportation of minors, and except for
a few high-profile cases, most are not made public.
The deportation of a 14-year-old Turkish youth touched off a
national debate two years ago. Although the boy was born in Munich
and both his parents live there, a court deemed his long criminal
record reason to revoke his residence permit and send him to
Turkey, unaccompanied. …