Planned Parenthood Director’s Holes in Story Revealed In Recent Radio Interview

Amie Newman

Last week, Abby Johnson, the director of a Texas Planned Parenthood health center that provides abortions, resigned citing a "conversion". But a radio interview just weeks earlier leaves many questions unanswered.

Updated as of 6:15pm EST, 11/3/09

Last week, Abby Johnson, the director of a Texas Planned Parenthood health center that provides abortions, among its other services including birth control, annual exams and sexually transmitted infection prevention and treatment, resigned citing a "conversion" that caused her to see abortion in an entirely new light. Her resignation came just weeks after the 40 Days for Life anti-choice campaign wrapped up its annual protest in front of the clinic.

Television and online news outlets are reporting that her change of heart was the result of viewing an ultrasound. From Fox News, Johnson is reported as saying:

“When I was working at Planned Parenthood I was extremely pro-choice,”
Johnson told But after seeing the internal workings of the
procedure for the first time on an ultrasound monitor [editor’s note: emphasis mine], “I would say
there was a definite conversion in my heart … a spiritual conversion.”

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From a television interview on a local Texas station:

One of the most basic questions I have is this: How did Ms. Johnson become the director of a Planned Parenthood center that provides abortions up to 14 weeks – that is technically a second trimester abortion – without having seen an ultrasound image of a fetus in utero or an actual abortion being performed? When a woman comes into a health center and takes a pregnancy test to confirm pregnancy and then requests an abortion, providers need to give her an ultrasound to ensure that the pregnancy isn’t ectopic and to figure out how far along in the pregnancy the woman is, among other things. Ultrasounds, at the health center I worked at for seven years, were a routine part of care. Marcy Bloom, former executive director at Aradia Womens’ Health Center (the clinic at which I worked), says, "Pre-abortion ultrasound is the standard of care in the United States."

Some women wanted to see the ultrasound image and some didn’t. It almost never swayed them, of course, because (shock!), the women knew there was a fetus growing inside them and didn’t need an image on a screen to make them aware. But, also, because 61% of women who get abortions are already mothers – mothers who generally receive ultrasounds during pregnancy – they are aware of what an ultrasound will reveal. 
All employees at the feminist women’s health center I worked in – from the communications and outreach staff to the women who performed client intake – were offered the chance to view an abortion as a means of understanding how abortion is performed and how best to assist women undergoing the procedure. This was all done with the consent of the client, of course. Now, as with any surgical procedure, there were certainly employees who did not work directly with clients for whom viewing an abortion was the last thing in the world they wanted to see. And that makes sense. Of course, this was a feminist health center and we did do things differently. However it is still hard to understand how Ms. Johnson didn’t know what an actual abortion entailed.
The 40 Days for Life campaign started in Bryan/College Station, TX – the campaign that seemed to spur Ms. Johnson’s conversion. The 40 Days for Life campaign web site puts it this way:

Abby Johnson worked at Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas for eight
years. She was there when the first-ever 40 Days for Life campaign was
conducted outside of her workplace in the Bryan/College Station
community in 2004.

She was there for the next 40 Days for Life effort as well — the one
that helped to launch the first nationally coordinated 40 Days for Life
campaign in the fall of 2007.

And she was there for the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that — and the one after that!

40 Days for Life is run by a man named Shawn Carney who also runs the local Coalition for Life which, yep, Ms. Johnson has now aligned herself (her television interview is done with Mr. Carney by her side). In fact, the 40 Days for Life folks are so thrilled by Ms. Johson’s "sudden spiritual conversion" that the blogger on the site practically explodes with this news,

"I’ve known about this for the past few weeks, but now I can finally share the HUGE NEWS!"

This might yet raise another eyebrow (if I had more than two). It seems Ms. Johnson’s conversion wasn’t so sudden, huh? I’d love to know how these events went down. Ms. Johnson sees an abortion on an ultrasound for the first time, goes home and realizes – oh my god, I’ve worked at an abortion clinic for years, I’ve advocated strongly for reproductive rights, supported women’s health issues – but now I need to call the leader of 40 Days for Life to tell them about this? And have them keep it secret for weeks?

Why? Why would she have the leader of 40 Days for Life keep this secret for weeks before the great reveal? 

Though I cannot answer that, the restraining order Planned Parenthood of Texas has issued against Abby Johnson and Coalition for Life may makes more sense now.

From a statement released on Friday, Octobert 30th from Planned Parenthood of Southeast Houston and Texas officials:

“Today, through our attorneys, we requested and Judge X of the District Court
of Brazos County issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the Brazos Valley
Coalition for Life and former employee Abby Brannam Johnson.  We regret
being forced to turn to the courts to protect the safety and confidentiality of
our clients and staff, however, in this instance it is absolutely necessary.”

At the time of the writing of this post, Planned Parenthood has not released any further information about why the restraining order is needed but, according to Planned Parenthood officials in Texas, they are working on a statement currently.

What might be the most shocking juxtaposition, however, is this interview aired on September 20, 2009, just weeks ago on KEOS, a small college radio station. 

During the interview, Ms. Johnson not only makes clear that her Planned Parenthood center’s abortion services make up only 3% of their services, which, according to Diane Quest, National Media Director for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is about on par with the national numbers – "Planned Parenthood’s focus is on prevention. Nationwide,
more than 90% of the health care Planned Parenthood affiliates provide is
preventive in nature, including wellness exams, breast and cervical cancer
screenings, contraception, and STD testing and treatment." She also says that the "entirely separate" 501(c)3 (nonprofit) corporation that funds their abortion services received a $30 million grant from a private anonymous donor recently to keep their abortion services running.

From the interview:

Interviewer: What percentage of your services are abortion?

Johnson: About 3%.

Interviewer: So, it’s not really much.

Johnson: No.

Interviewer: So when people label you an
abortion facility are they being truthful when they are saying that?

Johnson: Well not unless you think 3% is an overwhelming amount I
guess, but no, we don’t think so. We think 3% is a very small amount and
our – I guess our goal has always been that every pregnancy is intended
and wanted and um, when we see a dip in abortion numbers we consider that a

When the interviewer asks her specifically about funding for PP’s programs, here’s what Abby Johnson says,

PP is a Medicaid provider. First off, PP is divided up into separate
corporations. So, there is a Planned Parenthood 501c3 non profit that is a family
planning corporation. Also, there is a PP surgical services corporation that is our abortion
and vasectomy services. They are totally separate corporations. The surgical services corporation,
regardless of what you might hear, receives no government funding – all private
donations. And then almost two years ago we received about 30 million
dollars in an anonymous donation from a foundation to help women receive abortion services where money was a barrier.


That sort of runs roughshod over her allegations made in the television interview that some unnamed higher-up at Planned Parenthood encouraged her to increase abortions for financial reasons, doesn’t it?

But what’s more fascinating is the myriad ways (and keep in mind this interview was done, seemingly, around the same exact time in which she has apparently had a conversion and is keeping it a secret from all except 40 Days for Life) in which she passionately discusses her deeply held belief that women need access to abortion services for their well-being and health:

Interviewer: Why did you become involved in reproductive health care?

Johson: It’s important to me because i think it’s a human rights issue. I had talked with some physicians who performed abortions pre-Roe v. Wade and listened to them talk about their horror stories of women who had to have illegal abortions and the way they would perform them and how they would have to watch women die from illegal procedures and that really hit home for me as a woman and as a mother. I don’t ever want to go back to the days where women have to take their own lives in their hands because of an unintended or unwanted pregnancy.  So, it was very personal for me.

Where did Ms. Johnson’s concerns for women’s health and lives, her plea for things never to "go back to the days where women have to take their own lives in their hands because of an unintended…pregnancy" go? Where do these fears live now, Ms. Johnson? 

Perhaps the most damning and confusing parts of the interview, however, are related to the lengthy conversation about 40 Days for Life, Coalition for Life, their protests and anti-choice violence as of late.

When the interviewer asks her about all of the protests that her center has had to endure as well as the overall effect of anti-choice campaigning against them including a claim by Coalition for Life that her PP had failed a health inspection, Ms. Johnson responds by calling the Coalition for Life liars, essentially, and denigrates them, 

The Coalition (for Life) made claims that we didn’t sterilize instruments – that was absolutely not true. The only thing that had anything to do with patient care – right now we’re  on electronic records but back in 2006 we still had charts. The Texas Department of Health wanted to take a significant number of charts outside the clinic and we didn’t allow it and they wrote it up as a deficiency. They said because they are the state they can take out whatever records they want and we argued that we promise our patients we won’t allow their records to be removed and we stuck to that. We got written up for protecting patient confidentiality. And when the Coalition found that report they thought they had hit a gold mine but they took what was on there, misconstrued it and made it look like we had failed it. 


And when the interviewer specifically asks about the protests 40 Days for Life organizes (you know the one that occurred immediately before Ms. Johnson experienced her "spiritual conversion"), Ms. Johnson makes no bones about her frustration:

It is a protest where they stand outside of our facility for 12 hours a day, during business hours. We call it 40 days of harrassment. They stand outside and harrass our patients. 

Ms. Johnson goes onto explain how the coalition offers inaccurate information and harrasses women who are coming in for pap smears, breast exams or birth control and try to convince them to go to providers who are either extremely expensive or don’t provide the services these women are seeking.

Johnson: So it’s confusing to our patients and we actually have had some patients that have talked to members of the Coaliton protesting and have been convinced and every single time they come back to us. So, the information they are giving is inaccurate. 


Perhaps what is most disturbing about Ms. Johnson’s claims that she is now "pure of heart" is her decision to sweep the violence and harrassment she and her own family – including her daughter and her husband – as well as her former employees have been experiencing at the hands of the very same folks she is now choosing to align herself with in the name of religion and purity:

Interviewer: Have you ever been targeted? I’ve seen how aggressive these protestors can be – 

Johnson: Sure. Back about a year and a half ago, I was receiving death threats that were targeted at me and my husband and my daughter. The rest of the staff – they received harrassing things in the mail. Things that will go to them and the rest of the neighborhood announcing that they are an abortionist. And all these gruesome things that they do not participate in. Things they put out there for shock value. And send out to neighborhood. They – some of our staff members have had pickets at their homes. You wake up in morning, have coffee and there are people protesting outside at their home. Some of us have been followed different places in oru cars. We go to the mall and we notice there are people following us. It’s very serious. This group of people that claim to be "peaceful prayer warriors" or whatever they call themselves. It’s kind of ironic that some of them would be sending death threats and that they would be harrassing and stalking some of our staff. 

Somehow in the span of a few weeks (a few days? An hour? A moment?),
Ms. Johnson’s fear of those who rely on violence and intimidation has
simply dissipated. 

When the conversation turns to Dr. Tiller’s murder in May 2009, Abby Johnson makes it clear that her belief is that Scott Roeder, the accused killer, had clear ties to the anti-choice community; the same community with which she is now intimately a part of:

Interviewer: Did Scott Roeder, the accused killer of Dr. Tiller, make any death threats?

Johson: I’m not sure about death threats.

Interviewer: He was active in the community, 

Johnson: He was active in the anti-choice community, active with Operation Rescue. He did make some covert threats which are some of the things that we receive. But it [the threats] doesn’t seem menacing until something like that happens. And then you think, ‘Oh maybe we do need to be a little more cautious, a little more worried. I think it really hits home for our families and you know. I remember the day we found out George [Dr. Tiller] had been murdered my husband was like, please don’t leave the house. because it’s very real. The risk is very real.’

…Now we’ve seen increasing numbers of clinic violence and vandalism and hate mail. We receive hate mail at the clinic all the time. Religious sorts of mailings  that come to us – fire and brimestone – that comes to us all the time.

Does something feel absolutely wrong here? How is is that Ms. Johnson can now turn to those whom she’s feared, been the target of just weeks prior and now stand side-by-side? And, according to Ms. Johnson, just days before her religious awakening, none of what 40 Days for Life or the Coalition for Life does makes any difference whatsoever. So, what exactly does she think she’s doing? Is it religious fervor that has overtaken her causing her to take leave of her senses such that she is willing to either forget that these anti-choice advocates have harrassed her very own family and staff or to just simply not care?

Interviewer: We talked about 40 days for life earlier and the protest in front of the clinic and we should note they stay out their for 24 hrs day supposedly. and they have a new building basically right next door, down the street from you all (PP). How do you think that is going to affect you all? Now it’s going to be easier for them to do this sidewalk counseling, is what they have said. 

Johnson:  I think they think it’s going to be fantastic. I don’t think it’s going to make any difference at all. I think that when people come to PP they know they are coming to a trusted health care provider and then they have these people standing out there on sidewalk screaming at them.  Patients are confused thinking why are people screaming at me from the sidewalk? They just don’t understand. They just want to come in, go to their appointment, get taken care of and leave. I think their belief is that they are going to talk to all these people who are pregnant and are "abortion minded" walk them over to their little house  (we call it the guilt house) and change their mind. We haven’t seen it happen once. Um, our patients, generally are annoyed that someone is out there trying to change their mind on what they shourl or shouldn’t be doing – give them grief on their choices and now they are providing pregnancy tests over there. They aren’t a medical facility so they can’t get medical grade pregnancy tests – so basically dollar store pregnancy tests. So, the majority of our business is not pregnancy tests so I’m not sure what kind of business they think they’d be taking from us. They’ve been down the road from us for ten years and our numbers continue to increase every years so I’m not sure what they think they’re going to do. 


She clearly states that none of what Coalition for Life or 40 Days for Life does helps women in any shape or form. 

Ah, but the final dig, as the interview wraps, is reserved for Fox News. Yes, the very network on which Ms. Johnson will appear this Friday. The station on which Abby Johnson was interviewed was running a pledge drive when the interview was being conducted and so Ms. Johnson is asked why people should donate to KEOS. 

Johnson: People should donate. Because if you believe in getting accurate information and not information from FOX News, then you should donate…

Abby Johnson may have honestly experienced what feels to her like a thunderous religious conviction, rattling her to the bones. But from this interview, conducted possibly days before, there are far too many holes in this story to let it be. Clinic staff workers at this Planned Parenthood likely feel no more safe today, no more protected from the death threats, no less harrassed by those who Johnson herself claims do nothing to help the women of their community but with whom she has now aligned herself, though probably much more firm in their own conviction that providing health care services to women who need them is an honorable, noble and necessary cause. 

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.