Nicolas Sarkozy has said there are too many foreigners in France and that their integration is increasingly failing.
In a TV debate, reported by the BBC, Sarkozy defended his plan to cut the number of new arrivals in half if he is re-elected next month.
With a presidential election looming, and Socialist candidate Francois Hollande ahead in the polls, Sarkozy has made a series of proposals aimed at wooing back right wingers who voted for him en masse in 2007, according to The Telegraph.
This same voters have since become disillusioned, and are turning back to the far-right National Front party led by Marine le Pen.
But it hasn't stopped Sarkozy trying — and The Telegraph even cites Le Pen as accusing Sarkozy of borrowing from her manifesto.
In the two-and-a-half hour TV debate, Sarkozy insisted that while immigration could remain "a boon" for France in many areas:
"Our system of integration is working more and more badly, because we have too many foreigners on our territory and we can no longer manage to find them accommodation, a job, a school.
He added: "Over the five-year term, I think that to restart the process of integration in good conditions, we must divide by two the number of people that we welcome, that's to say to pass from 180,000 per year to 100,000."
Sarkozy, whose father was a Hungarian immigrant, said he would make it tougher for newcomers to qualify for residency.
He also said he wanted to restrict some benefit payments to immigrants who had been in the country for 10 years, the BBC wrote.
Over the weekend, Sarkozy also moved the issue of France's Muslims to the forefront of the presidential campaign, according to the Associated Press reported.
Insisting that French civilization must prevail in France, he nixed the prospect of any special privileges for Muslims for halal meat being served in schools or separate swimming hours for Muslim women in public pools.
"There is no place in the republic for xenophobia, there is no place for racism ... There is no place for pools with hours for men and hours for women," the AP quoted Sarkozy as telling a rally Saturday in Bordeaux.
There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in France, and according to the AP: the latest generation is making increasing demands that the country accommodate needs set out by their religion or their customs.
Hollande, meantime, has proposed that all foreigners residing in France legally for five years should have the right to vote in local elections.
At a rally Saturday in Dijon, Hollande reiterated that foreigners should be allowed to vote "without fearing for our citizenship or our national cohesion or our freedom."
On Friday, Interior Minister Claude Gueant said that giving foreigners the right to vote in local elections would open the way to halal meat in school canteens and burqa-style bathing suits in public pools, remarks described as "sickening" by Hollande's campaign.