Le Pen also wants waiting period for foreigners to access benefits
NEW: Education minister describes Le Pen's words as 'ignorant'
France’s far-right party leader, Marine Le Pen, said children of illegal immigrants should be refused a free education.
Le Pen, who ran for the presidency in 2012 on an anti-immigration platform and plans to run again next year, said the hardline move – which flouts French law and the European Convention on Human Rights, would discourage immigration.
“I think free and compulsory schooling for the children of illegal parents encourages more immigration, which must be stopped,” Le Pen told reporters on Thursday in Paris.
Le Pen said that if elected president, she would also consider implementing a waiting period for foreigners to access certain public services or social benefits.
“I think this is fair, as our social protection system and our public services are now overloaded, overwhelmed.”
Her comments were met with a strongly worded response from French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
“With these words, which I condemn in the strongest terms, Mrs. Le Pen shows her utter indifference to the terrible situation affecting young children. She shows her ignorance of all republican principles and all international conventions of which France is a member,” Vallaud-Belkacem said in a statement.
“The struggle for the education of all children is a struggle against ignorance, which is the source of all violence and extremism in France and throughout the world.”
Rise of populism
Le Pen is widely expected to be one of two candidates in the second round of next year’s election. She told CNN in a previous interview that she hoped the recent rise in populist parties would continue at least until April and May next year, when French voters go to the polls.
She is likely to face Francois Fillon, who was elected candidate of the center-right Republicans in primary votes last month. Fillon is a social conservative who leans to the far right, and was seen to have been picked as a realistic contender to Le Pen.
Le Pen celebrated the surprise victory of US President-elect Donald Trump as a boost to her own cause, telling CNN in an interview last month that it showed people were “taking their future back.”
In that interview, she said that if she were in power, the country would be “nothing like you have seen in the last 30 years.”
“I am opposed to a multicultural France. I think that those who have a different culture and who arrive in France have to submit themselves to French culture. Like the old saying, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ I think that in France we should do like the French people,” she said.
Le Pen has said she wants to follow Britain’s lead and take France out of the 28-member European Union. Britain voted to leave the union in June in a referendum.