Q & A Race

What We Talk About When We Talk About Black Unwed Mothers: A Q&A With Tanya Fields of the BLK Projek

Regina Mahone

Fields drew attention during a recent live-streamed conversation between bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry, when she asked about the tearing down of Black unmarried mothers by other Black women. Rewire spoke with her about being a woman of color leader, stereotypes placed on Black unmarried mothers, and more.

On November 8, hundreds of viewers were introduced to Tanya Fields during the Q&A portion of a live-streamed event with bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry, when Fields asked about the tearing down of Black unmarried mothers by other Black women. One of MHP’s Foot Soldiers, Fields runs the BLK Projek, a food justice initiative in the South Bronx.

Last Friday, I had the chance to talk to Fields about her organization and her experience being a woman of color leader in that field. We also discussed the stereotypes placed on Black unmarried mothers, and what’s missing in the reproductive rights movement’s conversation about barriers to access. Below is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Rewire: Having created a number of community initiatives to, ultimately, improve your life and the life of your children, you are a leader in your South Bronx neighborhood. What has your experience been like as a woman of color leader?

Tanya Fields: In the South Bronx neighborhood, I don’t think my experience has been any more unique than any other women of color who have done work here. I mean the South Bronx is definitely a place where you see patriarchy play out. I think that if you talk to many of the amazing woman of color leaders here, like Kelli Sepulveda of The Point and Karen Washington, I think we would have very similar experiences of what it’s been like doing work in the South Bronx.

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Now, being a woman of color doing food work on a national and a citywide scale has been interesting because of how all of these things overlap, and how you see them play out. Folks on the Internet have said that I’m too big or made comments about my skin color or my hairstyle (I wear my hair in locks). The good food movement is often times very much seen through a normative white lens. We’re having discussions about it now [among leaders] in the movement, and a lot of folks are much more open to having the discussion, but I am still every day pointing out to someone their privilege. 

Rewire: What about that experience surprised you?

TF: I was very surprised when [people judging me on how I look] started happening, but I should’ve been less naive. I’m a woman. And any kind of woman in any kind of public space should know she is going to be judged regardless of her ethnic background, her race, or her nationality. If you are a woman, then our patriarchal society says your looks are up for discussion.

It was surprising to me to be talking about starting a mobile market, or a veggie truck, and to hear somebody make a joke about the fact that I don’t eat enough vegetables. Or, you know, saying, “She should start eating what she’s preaching.” That was hurtful, on a human level.

Then I realized why I am doing this work. I realized that not only am I responsible for getting better access [to healthy food] for my community and communities like mine. But I’m also responsible for dispelling myths about this idea that’s been force-fed to us in this country that stick-thin equals healthy. And that if you’re a larger bodied person you could not possibly be healthy. And that Black people don’t care about health. And that poor Black people don’t care about good food.

Rewire: I really love what you said on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show last week about how your children are not your circumstance and that they’re live human beings, and if we don’t nurture them, along with all other children, we’re going to see ourselves in some deep stuff in the next 20 years. With public benefit programs being cut left and right at both state and federal levels, what “stuff” are we looking at?

TF: We’re going to be looking at more children with learning disabilities who are not performing in a way that they need to, and more economic disparity because lawmakers are making it impossible for people to be able to actually climb their way out of poverty, whether they have children or not.

This idea that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps—that’s a bunch of bullshit. I wish people would stop saying that. After you get off the phone with me, I want you to get down on the floor and try to pull yourself up by your shoelaces. I’m telling you it’s physically impossible. You cannot do it. If you try to pull yourself up by your shoelaces, or your “bootstraps,” without the aid of a chair or putting your hand on the floor, it won’t happen. So even this euphemism that we keep giving to people itself is not physically possible. Why do we think it would actually be possible for people to help themselves out of poverty without some sort of systematic changes, some legislative changes, or without institutional changes? It is the systematic barriers, institutional barriers, and legislative barriers that are keeping people in poverty!

America does not care about poor children, no matter what color they are. I’m not saying that to be controversial. I’m saying it because it’s the truth. Because you can’t say that you do, and then cut food stamps. And then poor parents have to make choices about whether they’re going to feed their kids or themselves.

Rewire: Do you have any thoughts on the idea that’s so pervasive in our culture today that Black women are responsible for their own poverty?

TF: I don’t want to get into it. And not because I think you’re being too personal. Melissa Harris-Perry said in her conversation with bell hooks that people like stories. It does not matter how many times people put up different speeches of me speaking, or show my work, there’s a significant amount of people who will continue to reduce me down to the woman who has four kids and three babies’ daddies, who is now pregnant again, and who ain’t married. They don’t give a shit about anything else I’ve done. The only trope they want to hold onto is that I am some poster child for poverty. That I am what’s wrong with Black America.

Half of this country is in poverty. Dual-parent homes, married families, all of that—they didn’t create poverty. Corporate welfare is creating poverty. And legislation is creating poverty. I didn’t create poverty.

They are comfortable in that trope because they get to have a scapegoat. And when you’re talking about a racist, sexist, patriarchal society, [that’s] just easier.

Black people are not immune to doing the same type of damage that right-wing Republicans would. We absolutely need to blame the conditions we find ourselves in as Black people on somebody. And the single Black mother is an easy one to blame it on. People have totally bought into this idea of the “welfare queen,” which was propaganda made up out of the Reagan administration.

So all I can do is exist and teach my daughters and my sons to be tremendous, and that their very existence is revolutionary. Every time that they accomplish something and they are successful, they are revolutionary. They are the legacy that [shows] Black women do not create poverty.

Rewire: So tell me about the BLK Projek and how it’s helping to address these issues in your community.

TF: The elevator pitch is that the BLK Projek is harnessing the local good food movement to create economic development opportunities for marginalized women and youth. In laymen’s terms, we really just want to get better food in our communities and make sure that those who are the most impacted are the ones who benefit from the economic opportunities that it would bring. We’re working on two big projects right now.

I’m tremendously proud of myself. After running the organization for three years, this last year we were able to raise close to $100,000 through organizational funding, an IndieGoGo campaign, and individual giving. We’ve also had a conference that was attended by over 300 people. We got them to come out to the Bronx. More than half of the audience had never been to the Bronx before, because like many folks they had some negative predispositions about what it means to live in the Bronx, or to go to the Bronx.

One of our two projects is a bus to deliver healthy foods in our community, which we turned into a clean-energy vehicle. We got a $10,000 grant to put solar panels on it. We converted the engine so that it runs on used vegetable oil, because in a community like ours sustainability is important.

My community is next to the largest food distribution center in the world. We get 16,000 diesel food trucks every day, with three major highways running through our community. And that food does not come into our community. But we do reap all of the negative impacts of having those things, including epidemic rates of asthma and high rates of childhood obesity. It was really important to us that we make sure that this vehicle be a responsible, clean-energy vehicle.

We are working with local farmers and growers in rural areas, like Corbin Hill Farm and Wholeshare, to bring food into our communities at reasonable prices. We’ll take EBT. We’re going to work on making sure we can take WIC farmer’s checks as well. And we want to create jobs through this program. Our bus driver is from this community. My program coordinator is from this community. The people that we will hire to pack the bus will be youth from the community. And then we just want to continue to grow that so that we can get to a point where we can pay living wages and make sure that people here really feel invested in the food that comes into it.

And then our second project: We are in the process of registering a city-owned lot, with GreenThumb, because we are going to work with Sustainable South Bronx and turn it into an urban farm.

That’s how we’re addressing the issue of food access in our community, by creating open, green spaces where folks can become educated, grow food, and have a relationship with the land, or just have a safe space to come into where they will not be criminalized for simply existing. That space will support the mobile market, which provides better access to folks as well as some economic development opportunities. And then from there, I kind of feel like the stratosphere is the limit. I think there are so many other things that we can do. And my hope is that I can train some young woman from the community in the next four to five years to take over the organization.

I really feel like part of my calling is also to continue to get my ass kicked because I chose to be the voice for women who feel like they don’t necessarily have a voice. There are so many tropes and stereotypes about low-income mothers, about single mothers despite their income, particularly mothers of color, particularly Black mothers. It’s hard enough being a Black woman in American society. Go ahead and have a baby and not be married, and everything that’s wrong in the world is your fault. And under these auspices—like your community looking at you with disdain—you must raise healthy, happy children, when the legislative policies and institutional structures make it difficult for you to do so. On the left and on the right, when we have conversations about single mothers, we have conversations about poor women. Lawmakers will have everybody at the table except poor women, except single mothers, as if we’re some sort of extinct species they can never get a hold of.

We are very comfortable continuing to hold up single mothers either as an abject version of poverty that deserves our charity and who is a consistent victim—and that’s not my narrative, and not the narrative of my grandmother and my aunts and folks that have raised their children to be well adjusted, happy, and successful—or making you some living-high-on-the-welfare hog, who doesn’t care, has low self-esteem, is chronically uneducated, and doesn’t know what birth control is. It is maddening.

There needs to be more spaces where folks are allowed to advocate for themselves and be seen as whole individuals, and no different from anybody else. You know, we talk about veterans, and they are deserving of our sympathy when they are not treated well because they fought for this country. When we talk about single mothers, we talk about them with the most disdain even though they are raising our children who will go on to become adults who are supposed to lead our country. And we treat them like they are deserving of nothing.

Rewire: How do you go about changing that narrative, that trope, that single story of Black women?

TF: It’s not me alone. There are lots of women. One of the first blog posts that came out after the New School event was on this blog called Beyond Baby Mamas, and the author [Stacia L. Brown] wrote a really articulate piece that talked about me, but also talked about a lot about single mothers in general. That we come in all the shapes, colors, and sizes, educational levels, experiences, and we are all complicated, multi-layered people. Us having children doesn’t stop that. There are already women who are having these conversations.

I think what really needs to happen, much like anything else in this country, there needs to be a person, a group of people, who are consistently out there with messaging and communication projects, continuing to create platforms for folks to organize around. Because it’s more than just, Oh I want to be seen as a human being. That’s the beginning of it. Being seen as a human being means then we create legislative policy that does not take food out of the mouths of children. The largest amount of food stamp recipients are children, so when you cut food stamps, you are taking food out of the mouths of babies. How do we as a country do that? It’s because we don’t see these types of children as valuable as other children.

Rewire: Around the country, states are taking away women’s access to reproductive services. This is something Black women have been facing for decades. What is missing from the conversation when the reproductive rights community talks about restrictions to access?

TF: We talk about reproductive rights, but we don’t talk about reproductive justice. Yes, women should have the right to access all of these services, but what about the fact that the very industry of gynecology was built on using Black women as guinea pigs against their will? And what about the fact that when we talk about reproductive rights and reproductive justice that many times we’re only talking about birth control and we’re only talking about abortion, but we don’t talk about the right of a woman to carry her baby to full term and to receive the types of things that she would need to have a successful birth?

Why is it that in the Black community, in an industrialized country, we are seeing high rates of infant mortality? There are whole groups of people who are not being represented, and there’s this idea that it’s just the college-age young woman who wants to be able to go to Planned Parenthood to get birth control, that she is the one who is most at risk. We have this conversation around everything that’s wrong with the Black community (i.e., me, an unmarried mother with multiple children and multiple fathers of those children), but we don’t have the conversation for the women who did not feel like they had a choice to have children, or who have found themselves in predicaments where they are having more terminations than they might be willing to be comfortable around, or the young woman who ends up pregnant because she wasn’t able to get quality access to birth control or education around her baby and reproductive organs. We’re not talking about those young women, and we’re not talking about those older women. We leave them out as usual—it’s one of the intersections of racism. We leave them out of the conversation.

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 Philly.com, 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.