'Full Measure': No immigrants
HENIN-BEAUMONT, France (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - Immigration was a pivotal issue driving the U.S. presidential race. Now, for President Donald Trump it's time to go from promises to policy. Do we build the wall? Expel all illegal immigrants? Those same issues were part of the recent French presidential election. When Scott Thuman was there covering the big race, he found a small town taking policy into its own hands.
From a hilltop just outside of town, Henin-Beaumont looks like your average blue-collar village. But this French faction of the country’s rust belt has faced more than its fair share of struggles. People’s optimism had been replaced with piles of slag from closed-up coal mines.
Man: "People are jaded from all these promises that haven’t been fulfilled."
Daniel Vaissier: "There was a catastrophic deficit here, we were paying exorbitant taxes."
The language is different, the scene and complaints the same as you’d find in coal country in Pennsylvania ...
Bill Allen: "My father was in the coal mine and that’s the way I supported my family."
... or cattle country in Texas.
Pam Dismukes: "I want to get the trade between the countries fixed."
In all, economies tanked, jobs dried up, and so did people's hope. Christopher Szczurek is the deputy mayor of Henin-Beaumont.
Szczurek: "As you tell, it’s quite poor, a huge unemployment rate."
Thuman: "How big is the unemployment rate here?"
Szczurek: "Twenty percent."
After years of struggle, the town is now rebounding, sprucing up, rebuilding. The success, some say, rests upon a controversial new notion. This has been dubbed “a town without immigrants.”
Thuman: "Should people be allowed to wear burkas, should people be allowed to wear yarmulkes in public?"
Szczurek: "I don’t think because we have a strong belief in our secularism. In public life, we should only see what gather us, not what divides us."
Last year, the town rallied support to form the Town Without Immigrants Association - a stand against taking in any refugees from Europe’s overwhelming migrant crisis as the country’s massive "jungle" refugee camp once sat just an hour away. The winds of change arrived via a political push that mirrors, to some degree, what’s happened in middle-American towns across the United States where people chose populism and protectionism in hopes of reviving the economy.
Man: "It’s gotta start somewhere. The taxpayers, the blue-collar worker, the working people cannot continue to support two-thirds of the world."
Calls for figurative walls in Henin-Beaumont have come from the National Front party, which now dominates the region.
Szczurek: "It was a time when France got a lot of work to give. That’s not the case anymore. We denounce immigration now, but we don’t denounce the people. We denounce the politics."
And not just about jobs. France has fundamentally changed since the attacks in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. Vaissier is a retired craftsman.
Vaissier: "Those who don’t want to integrate we keep out. And that’s it. Look at what happened in Paris, a Friday evening and people were just sitting with friends on the patio or at the Bataclan theater and they were shot. No, that’s not acceptable. Something must be done."
The reality of terrorism created a fertile ground for divisive politics. And human rights activist Marine Tondelier says anyone opposing the immigrant-free platform found life here untenable.
Thuman: "Everyone knows that immigrants are not welcome here?"
Tondelier: "Yes, if you want to come to France and you’re an immigrant, you don’t go to a National Front city."
This former councilwoman claims she was essentially forced out for her more inclusive attitude toward immigrants.
Thuman: "Are people here afraid to speak out against the National Front?
Woman: "Yes, yes. Enormously afraid. Those working in associations, those working for the city, they were afraid to speak to us in person. People are very scared."
An irony, considering the town’s origin.
Tondelier: "It has no sense here to say this because people, we were calling people from abroad to make the coal mines work."
Thuman: "So, in a town built on immigrants."
Tondelier: "Yes. And by immigrants."
Thuman: "And by immigrants in the coal mines here. You’re saying it’s difficult then to suddenly say: 'We don’t need them, we don’t want them.'"
While the National Front lost the national election, its members are hardly giving up. And just as Henin-Beaumont survived Roman and Norman invasions over the centuries, change happens.
Szczurek: "Maybe in 10 years we won’t be still seen as devil, you know?"
Thuman: "Seen as the devil?"
Szczurek: "That’s it."