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Nov 14, 2020

United, we’re not

Co-produced with PRX Logo

This election has illuminated deep cultural fissures across the United States – and the world. We are a nation in crisis, fighting each other in the middle of a pandemic and a bitter debate over the movement for Black lives. But the way most of us experience these divides will be closer to home … in our day-to-day lives.  

First, a dispatch from Detroit, where Black voters were crucial in flipping the state from red to blue. Host Al Letson talks with Candice Fortman, executive director of Detroit-based Outlier Media, who also pitched in as a volunteer poll worker. As mostly Black elections workers counted votes last week, mostly White right-wing protesters outside the elections office chanted, “Stop the count!” Fortman shares her perspective on how the scene fits into decades of Black voter suppression. 

Then we travel to the small town of Kingwood, West Virginia, to explore the legacy of the summer’s massive Black Lives Matter protests. In collaboration with 100 Days in Appalachia, reporter Chris Jones talks with a local Black organizer whose family has lived in West Virginia since the 1800s, a Black state legislator and a recently elected sheriff. Jones is a fellow with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.

The United States now has more than 10 million active COVID-19 cases. We talk with a nurse in Iowa City, which is seeing its largest COVID-19 spike ever. We also hear from Dr. Carlos del Rio, an epidemiologist at the Emory University School of Medicine, about how the Trump administration is failing to control the deadly virus. 

We then focus on reproductive rights in Georgia, where last year the state passed a law restricting abortions after six weeks. A federal judge struck down the law, but it could come before the Supreme Court as a challenge to Roe v. Wade. Reporter Sonam Vashi talks with two Georgia women on opposite sides of the new law. 

Finally, a Guatemalan family seeking asylum and separated by the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy talks about their hopes for the future.

Credits

100 days in appalachia logo

report for america

Reported by: Chris Jones at 100 Days in Appalachia and Report for America, Michael Montgomery, Jen Gollan, Sonam Vashi, Laura Morel, Patrick Michels

Produced by: Najib Aminy, Jesse Wright at 100 Days in Appalachia, Katharine Mieszkowski, Michael Montgomery, Neroli Price, Patrick Michels

Edited by:  Laura Starecheski, Brett Myers, Taki Telonidis, Emily Harris with help from Sumi Aggarwal

Production manager: Amy Mostafa

Production assistance: Brett Simpson

Sound design and music by: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda

Mixing: Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda, Najib Aminy, Claire Mullen

Episode art: Molly Mendoza

Special thanks: The Detroit Free Press, Bloomberg Quicktake, Sarah Alvarez at Outlier Media in Detroit; Caitlin Dickerson at The New York Times and Sandra Andrade for the recording of people singing at the border in our asylum story; Dana Coester and Ashton Marra at 100 Days in Appalachia

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan and Matt Thompson

Host: Al Letson

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

Al Letson:

Hey hey hey, it's Al, and before we get started today, we have a favor to ask of you. Reveal is conducting our annual audience survey. Why? We want to learn more about you, what you like about the show, what you don't like, how much of a raise you think Al deserves, which, you know, that'd be nice. Important things like that. So just text survey to 474747 to get started. Your feedback really does help us. Again, just text the word survey to 474747. And thanks.

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Climate change leaves us with questions. Not just about how fast the water is rising, but everyday things like, is it ever going to be too hot to live here? And how can I reduce flooding in my neighborhood? In a new podcast from WWNO, WRKF and PRX, reporter Travis Lux and comedian Lauren Malara explore some of those questions from a city at the forefront of climate change: New Orleans, Louisiana. It's called Life Raft. Climate change is scary, but Life Raft is not. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. We learned on November 7th that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the presidential election. President Trump and Republican leaders refuse to acknowledge it, making false and dangerous claims that the vote was somehow rigged. Before the race was called, the country endured days and nights of counting, of painstaking tallies sometimes by hand, vote by vote. Inside a giant room at a convention center in Detroit, Michigan, election officials and volunteers gathered to count ballots. Candice Fortman of the Detroit newsroom, Outlier Media, was an election volunteer, something she's done with her family since she was a little girl.

Candice Fortman:

I have been a part of this process many times over, and I have never, in all of my days, seen anything that sounded like that or looked like that.

Al Letson:

Candice's job was to sign in people called vote challengers, Democrat, Republican, and non-partisan volunteers who are allowed to watch the process and call out issues with any particular ballot.

Candice Fortman:

So Tuesday, actually, things were relatively normal. When I arrived on Wednesday, it was like walking into a completely different space.

Speaker 4:

Back up off the door!

Speaker 5:

You never told people to sign out, so you don't know how many are in there! [crosstalk 00:03:22] That is a lie!

Al Letson:

Candice was looking at a room full of hundreds of people, and she knew that only a certain number of challengers were allowed in.

Candice Fortman:

Challengers of both groups have a purpose, but their purpose is not to be disruptive of the process. So we were well over the number of folks for both Democrats and Republicans that were able to be in the room at that time. So that's what I walked into. We stopped letting people into the room. That is when the energy changed.

Al Letson:

Part of the president's strategy was to challenge vote counts. He tweeted lies about widespread fraud, and his team filed lawsuits and rallied protesters. They focused on cities with strong Black Democratic turnouts like Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit. Inside the hall where Candice was, you could see the racial divide from the beginning: mostly white Republican volunteers confronting mostly Black poll workers.

Candice Fortman:

You had everything from questioning the intelligence of the person working in that moment; are you able to understand the rules? In one instance, there was a GOP challenger who said to a Black woman sitting at a table, "Well, this, what you're doing is against the law." To which she responded back, "Well, I'm a lawyer, so we can have that conversation." So there was no assumption that the people sitting at this table have just as much intellect as you do.

Speaker 6:

Stop the count! Stop the count!

Candice Fortman:

So when you see videos that have circulated over the week of people banging on the doors, banging on the glass windows that are in the entranceway to that room, that is what we started to see at that point. We would have moments where there would be a group of challengers that would get together, and even inside of the facility, would start chanting, probably a chant that's never going to leave my mind, "stop the count. Stop the count."

Speaker 6:

Stop the count! Stop the count! Stop the count!

Al Letson:

When I saw those videos, I was just taken aback that people would be chanting "stop the count" in a democracy, and just the juxtaposition of the people that I saw chanting were primarily white and the people that were on the other side that were doing the work are primarily Black, and you're in Detroit; it's a pretty Black city. Everything felt off about that.

Candice Fortman:

I don't know that I've ever had a moment in Detroit where I felt unwelcome in my own city. Like someone was asking me not to be a part of a process in my own city.

Al Letson:

Did you feel like race was playing a big factor in what was going on?

Candice Fortman:

Yes. There's no way to really see it any other way. So Al, you have to ask yourself a question that most Detroiters are asking today: why didn't they go to Ann Arbor? Ann Arbor is an incredibly liberal college town with tons of white liberal professors who are likely voting for Joe Biden; why not Ann Arbor? Why not Oakland County, which is the wealthiest county in the state of Michigan that went for Joe Biden, right? Why not there? Why Detroit?

Candice Fortman:

I think that if you ask yourself why not Ann Arbor, why not Oakland County, then you get down to what is the bare-bones answer, and that is because that's not where Black folks are, and those aren't the folks that we're actually trying to suppress. Those aren't the voices we're trying to quiet. It was both scary and also incredibly infuriating.

Al Letson:

Yeah. I'm curious what you're taking into the future.

Candice Fortman:

I was reminded that I stand on giant shoulders in this city. I was raised by my grandparents, my grandfather is from Arkansas. Those stories of what he endured to get here, from going to World War II and fighting for a country that did not see him as a full human being, to eventually working on the racist floors of General Motors. Those stories were sitting in me that moment. I remember that I was Timothy's granddaughter, and I think the thing that is somehow lost on so many of these folks is that I'm an American. I was born in this country, I'm the daughter of this country. No one has fought for this place and for its democracy more than Black people, and certainly not more than Black women.

Candice Fortman:

To have this idea floating around in the room that I would be doing something that challenged that system that I believe in, even though it doesn't believe in me, was asinine. It was crazy. And so there we sat, taking it, dealing with it, because we knew that what we were doing wasn't just about us, it wasn't just about this election, it was about generations that will come after us who will have a better and an easier time navigating as Black folks and folks of color in this country.

Al Letson:

Candice Fortman is the executive director of Outlier Media, a service journalism organization in Detroit. Thanks so much, Candice, for coming to talk to me.

Candice Fortman:

Thanks for having me.

Al Letson:

We asked the Republican National Committee why they focused so heavily on ballots in Detroit and whether race played a role, but they never got back to us. Thanks to Najib Aminy for producing this story.

Al Letson:

What Candice experienced in Detroit isn't new, and it reminded me of events in our history when those type of racist confrontations have turned violent. When Black people have been beaten, burned out of their homes, or even killed by racist mobs because they dared to assert that they should have a voice. For some people, those threats to democracy and their own safety have become a part of their lives, and something they have to prepare for.

Danielle Walker:

Make sure I got [inaudible 00:09:45]. Over my head.

Al Letson:

Danielle Walker is putting on a bulky black vest. It's body armor, with bulletproof plates in the front and back. But her hair is getting in the way.

Danielle Walker:

Got to put my hair up.

Al Letson:

Walker's a delegate to the West Virginia legislature. She just won reelection as a Democrat, but her party got clobbered. The state's very conservative and 94% white. Walker's an African-American progressive, and now just one of three Black people serving in the legislature. Lately, the body armor's become a part of daily life.

Danielle Walker:

I wear it when I drive, I wear it when I check my mail, I wear when I take out the dog.

Al Letson:

Walker started wearing the armor after getting death threats.

Danielle Walker:

It felt like shackles and chains was being placed my body once again. It breaks my mother's heart when she goes to give me an embrace.

Al Letson:

The death threats, the body armor, it all started in the last few months.

Danielle Walker:

The first time I put on body armor was September 12th, for the Kingwood, West Virginia Black Lives Matter march.

Speaker 8:

No justice, no peace.

Al Letson:

This protest didn't grab national headlines, but the local reaction divided the community. And like so many divides in this country, it left some people feeling like their voices didn't matter. Reporter Chris Jones was there that day. He's with the non-profit newsroom 100 Days in Appalachia, and we should warn you, this story contains some offensive language.

Chris Jones:

Kingwood is an old West Virginia mining town about 30 minutes from the Maryland border. Around 3,000 people live here, and back in September, this Black Lives Matter protest drew about a dozen marchers.

Speaker 10:

Go slow, I'm 73.

Chris Jones:

The group includes white women and Black West Virginians. They're flanked by three armed guards. They gather behind the community baseball field with their Black Lives Matter banner. And then they start their walk to the courthouse five blacks away. Frank Goines organized this march. His great-great-grandmother, who'd been enslaved in Virginia, moved here in the 1890s. The Goines family has lived here ever since. Frank called the sheriff's department weeks in advance of the march.

Frank Goines:

I was just trying to make them comfortable to let them know nothing illegal was going to happen. I had no intention on doing anything illegal or inviting anyone that was having any intentions on doing anything illegal.

Speaker 12:

Black families matter!

Chris Jones:

But Frank's group isn't the only one in Kingwood marching this morning. Across the ball field, about 50 heavily armed counter-protesters are gathering.

Male:

All lives matter. [crosstalk 00:12:35] All lives matter.

Chris Jones:

Many carry loaded rifles, shotguns, almost all of them have a pistol on their hip. As the marchers make their way up the sidewalk, they're surrounded by counter-protesters. A motorcycle pulls alongside, its engine revving every time they try to chant. The security team tries to keep the counter-protesters away from Delegate Walker. She's wearing body armor, which you can see through her shirt. Walker's trying to calm things down. It isn't work.

Danielle Walker:

Good morning, everyone. All lives matter! [crosstalk 00:13:20] including Black lives! All children matter! Including Black children, white children, Asian children, Chinese children, Muslim children ...

Chris Jones:

Before this rally, rumors circulated on Facebook that Black Lives Matter protesters were being bused in from Baltimore and other cities.

Male:

Go back to Chicago where you [crosstalk 00:13:50]. Where you from, Maryland?

Chris Jones:

The Black Lives Matter protesters are all from West Virginia, but some of the counter-protesters tell me they came in from out of state to defend the down.

Speaker 14:

Four more years! Four more years! Four more years! USA! USA!

Chris Jones:

Many have Trump flags and MAGA hats. One of them has a swastika tattooed on his hand. He's wearing a T-shirt with a Nazi SS symbol on the front.

Male:

White lives!

Chris Jones:

What was supposed to be a peaceful march quickly becomes a standoff. Law enforcement officers look on while armed counter-protesters shout racist slurs. And a warning, this tape includes the N-word, something counter-protesters yelled repeatedly throughout the march.

Male:

All lives matter! [crosstalk 00:14:42] You'll be good, all right, you're a piece of fucking dog shit.

Male:

Fucking Commies. Nigger-loving Commies. [crosstalk 00:14:54]

Chris Jones:

Afterwards, Frank tells me how it felt to be on the receiving end of these threats.

Frank Goines:

I knew this was going to take that one idiot, that one person, and more than likely it was going to be some uneducated, booger-eating scoundrel that had never handled a firearm or that didn't care whether they went to jail or not. But I just knew it took one shot, and I knew after that one shot was taken, I was going to be number one on that list of targets from that side that was there to hate that had guns, because one, I was the one who organized it.

Chris Jones:

Frank also says he was worried about Delegate Walker. After all, he'd invited her to the march. As for Walker, she says she's heard those racist slurs before. And a warning, she's about to repeat one of them.

Danielle Walker:

Don't get me wrong, I've been called a nigger before. But the tone in the voices and the anger in the eyes and the clenched fists and the wrinkles of the forehead hurt more at that moment than those words. The hands on the guns in the holsters, the fingers on the trigger, that was real.

Chris Jones:

Local news outlets and law enforcement downplayed what happened in Kingwood that day. Walker wrote an open letter to Republican Governor Jim Justice, asking him to denounce white supremacy. It took weeks before the governor publicly responded, and when he did, he echoed Trump's response to the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

Jim Justice:

Whether the ... either side, no matter what it be, we don't need to tolerate at any level, any level of hate and hatred and hate speech and everything to go on anywhere at any time.

Chris Jones:

On Election Day, Kingwood elected a new sheriff, Republican Moe Pritt. He was Chief Deputy Pritt during the September march. He and other officers stood back that day as tensions escalated. I ask him if he thinks they could've done anything differently.

Moe Pritt:

From our perspective, could we have done anything differently? Yeah, but to me, nobody was hurt, other than maybe their feelings, both sides, and they all went home. And we all went home.

Chris Jones:

Sheriffs sit at the intersection of politics and law enforcement, and Sheriff-Elect Pritt would rather protesters just stay home.

Moe Pritt:

You know, you can be at home and believe what you believe. You don't have to come out here and do it, in the middle of Kingwood on a Saturday.

Chris Jones:

According to an Associated Press survey, nine out of 10 voters across the country were thinking about protests against police violence when they voted. And when Danielle Walker goes to the state legislature in Charleston this February, those protests will be on her mind.

Danielle Walker:

Well, not every moment is going to be a kumbaya moment. So let's get to work. We in a pandemic anyway, we don't need to be singing in nobody's choir, it's time for us to go to work.

Chris Jones:

And when she does, she expects the threats will be there, too.

Danielle Walker:

The body armor started on September 12th, and it hasn't stopped. The threats come every time a news article comes. A threat comes every time I participate in a protest, a march, or even a vigil. The threat comes if someone writes an opinion editorial about me in the newspaper.

Al Letson:

Chris Jones is a Report For America fellow. This story was produced in partnership with the non-profit news outlet 100 Days in Appalachia, was produced by Jessie Wright and Reveal's Katharine Mieszkowski.

Al Letson:

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will have the job of uniting the country when they take office, and the political divisions in places like Kingwood are being felt across America, even by healthcare workers on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.

Speaker 17:

When this first came, it was healthcare heroes and we're here to support you, and we don't feel that love anymore.

Al Letson:

That's next on Reveal.

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Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. As the presidential campaign reached its final days, in many parts of the country, COVID-19 cases were surging to record levels. But you wouldn't have known that from listening to President Trump.

Former President Trump:

We're turning the corner, we're turning the corner, we're rounding ... like this racetrack, look at this, it's perfect.

Al Letson:

This is the president speaking October 27th at a campaign stop in West Salem, Wisconsin. Like many of his rallies, the energetic crowd is packed closely together, and many people are not wearing masks.

Former President Trump:

We're rounding the curve, we will vanquish the virus, and by the way ...

Al Letson:

That same day, the federal government reported 901 new COVID deaths. The next day, it was 1,060. And the numbers kept climbing for the rest of the campaign.

Former President Trump:

It's a choice between a deadly Biden lockdown, he wants to lock down, we're never locking down.

Former President Trump:

And what we've done with therapeutics is incredible. Excuse me, here I am.

Al Letson:

Unlike Joe Biden, Trump made little mention of the alarming surge in the virus, and the urgent measures public health experts were calling for. Instead, he talked about something he'd be promising to deliver for months: a vaccine.

Former President Trump:

We will mass-distribute the vaccine in just a few short weeks. It will quickly eradicate the virus and wipe out the China Plague once and for all.

Al Letson:

In the last week of the campaign, 5,809 people died from COVID-19. That's more than twice the death toll from the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City.

Carlos del Rio:

If we saw a week in which two jumbo jets will drop from the sky and kill everybody daily, don't you think somebody would drop and say, what the hell's going on?

Al Letson:

Dr. Carlos del Rio is an infectious disease expert at Emory University. He worked with the CDC and the World Health Organization on the H1-N1 virus, and has close ties to the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Carlos del Rio:

The administration has pretty much said, we're not going to do anything as far as stopping the pandemic. The administration is basically letting the virus run loose, they are hoping the hospitals will be able to handle the cases, they are counting on a vaccine and hoping that not too many people die in the meantime.

Al Letson:

One of the biggest spikes has been in Iowa, where new cases have jumped about 200% from two weeks ago. Allison Wynes is a nurse practitioner at the University of Iowa hospitals and clinics in Iowa City. She remembers Donald Trump's visit to the state just before the election.

Allison Wynes:

I remember with the last rally that was here, we were all holding our breath, because we saw all these people, they're in close proximity and they're not wearing, all of them aren't wearing masks, and we're just bracing ourselves, like, is this going to be a super-spreader event?

Al Letson:

I spoke with Allison in her office in the intensive care unit.

Al Letson:

So, Allison, you're just finishing your shift for the day. Tell about what you've been seeing.

Allison Wynes:

So today I actually was carrying the triage page, so that is the pager where I take phone calls from outside hospitals or physicians or providers on the floor or in the ER that are trying to get people into the ICU. And it used to be one of my favorite jobs; it's now my least favorite job, because I have to make decisions about whether or not a patient gets an ICU bed or not.

Al Letson:

We've been in the pandemic now since the beginning of the year, and for a good little bit, Iowa didn't have as high rates as other places in the country. But now it seems like Iowa rates are really peaking. Why do you think that is?

Allison Wynes:

Everything is open again in Iowa, you can go to bars, you can go to restaurants, you can go to the mall. Schools are open. And again, people are just letting their guard down, and we're hearing from leadership that we're rounding the corner, so I think people just aren't taking it either as seriously as they should be, or they're just ... no longer have it in them to continue to do the things that we need to do from a public health standpoint to keep our numbers low enough to be safe.

Al Letson:

I think it's pretty clear that America is really divided right now over a lot of things. How real are those divisions for you?

Allison Wynes:

I think they're real. I think the election is now over, but I'm scared that people who are on one side of the fence or feel like they don't need to wear masks because it's their right not to or that this isn't as bad as the media is making it out to be, I'm worried that those people will push that agenda harder and will resist even more. I'm also worried that people may see the results of the election and say, oh, thank goodness, we're fine, and I don't think it's going to be that simple.

Al Letson:

How is it affecting you personally?

Allison Wynes:

I'm tired and I'm struggling, and I'm sad. It's just devastating to see it and to have to still be a good friend to these people who are not doing the things that would keep your community safe. It's difficult to go home and be a parent when your kids are worried about the virus and they want to go back to school, and they're scared that Mom works in the hospital and they want to know if I was safe and if everyone was safe.

Allison Wynes:

You feel like you're wearing so many hats and they're all really, really heavy hats.

Al Letson:

Allison, I can't thank you enough for the work that you're doing. Thank you, thank you.

Allison Wynes:

I want to thank you for continuing to shed light on it, because when this first came it was, healthcare heroes and we're here to support you and we all came together, and we don't feel that love anymore. I don't know if the right word is left behind, but we really feel like we're stuck, and it's hard to feel like people care anymore. So I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me as well.

Al Letson:

Allison Wynes spoke to us from the hospital at the University of Iowa, where she's an intensive care nurse. This past week there was big news about a promising COVID vaccine, but even if it's approved, mass distribution is not expected until well into next year. We reached out to the Trump administration for this story, but they declined to comment. Our story was produced by Jen Gollan and Michael Montgomery.

Al Letson:

Across the U.S., the future of abortion access doesn't depend so much on who's president; that's because of this, a week before Election Day.

Former President Trump:

In a few moments, we will proudly swear in the newest member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Al Letson:

14 years ago, Barrett publicly opposed abortion and Roe vs. Wade. Now, a number of state laws that directly challenge the right to abortion access could be headed to this new Supreme Court. One of those laws comes from Georgia.

Speaker 21:

In the Georgia state capital today, Governor Brian Kemp signed legislation that all but bans abortion in the state.

Al Letson:

Governor Kemp signed it last year.

Brian Kemp:

As you all know, Georgia is a state that values life. We protect the innocent, we champion the vulnerable, we stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves.

Al Letson:

We're going to hear now from two Georgians who voted differently for president and who had dramatically different reactions to Georgia's restrictive abortion law. Emily Mulkey is a mom, a white woman living on of Atlanta's diverse suburbs.

Emily Mulkey:

Our government's primary reason for being is to protect the vulnerable. You look back in history and you want to be on the right side of it.

Al Letson:

Brandy Hill, a Black woman who moved to Atlanta from Chicago, was outraged by the law, and by Kemp saying he values life.

Brandy Hill:

No, you do not. You care about birth, right? If you cared about life, you would do things like address homelessness and address maternal mortality and address infant mortality. There's just so many things that you could literally do if you cared about people while they are living.

Al Letson:

Reporter Sonam Vashi has a story of these two women and why they've landed on different ends of this national divide.

Emily Mulkey:

You got it? Don't unscrew it. Don't unscrew it.

Emily's Husband:

You just pop it off?

Emily Mulkey:

You just pull it off, straight off.

Sonam Vashi:

A few days before Election Day, Emily Mulkey is getting ready.

Emily Mulkey:

Please don't waste the needle.

Sonam Vashi:

She's at home with her husband, injecting herself with hormones.

Emily's Husband:

Ready?

Emily Mulkey:

Yeah. It hurts really bad.

Sonam Vashi:

Because on Election Day-

Emily Mulkey:

So I'm super-excited, I'm really nervous. Just walking up to the building, I got to put my mask on.

Sonam Vashi:

-she's going to a clinic not far from her suburban Atlanta home for her last fertility treatment.

Emily Mulkey:

It's our last shot at adding another baby to our family.

Sonam Vashi:

Emily and her husband already have three children by IVF. That's when eggs are fertilized in a lab, then transferred into the womb. It was a long, emotional process.

Emily Mulkey:

I transferred one, got pregnant but miscarried, re-transferred one, didn't even get pregnant, and then the third time, they said, well, let's try two.

Sonam Vashi:

That worked.

Emily Mulkey:

I got twins. And I started bleeding at 17 weeks, and it was the middle of the night, I woke up and I was ... I didn't even want to wake my husband, because I was like, they're not going to survive this early.

Sonam Vashi:

They rushed to the emergency room. Luckily, things turned out fine. The bleeding stopped.

Emily Mulkey:

I ended up giving birth to massive, giant twins.

Sonam Vashi:

She had a third child a year later. Emily grew up one of five kids in a Catholic family. Not devout, she says, just church on Christmas and Easter, but doing IVF, her faith made her question what to do with embryos she wouldn't use?

Emily Mulkey:

Do you want to donate it to science? Do you want somebody to be able to adopt them? Do you want to just flush them? So my husband and I prayed about it and thought about it and what are we going to do, and we came to the conclusion, no man left behind. Like, whatever embryos we get, we're using.

Sonam Vashi:

This is why she's get her very last embryo implanted, even though early genetic tests showed possible problems. This is her no-man-left-behind. Emily's views on abortion come from her experience with IVF.

Emily Mulkey:

To think how desperately I wanted to be a mother and to know that there are others that were pregnant aborting their babies, how do we exist in the same universe?

Sonam Vashi:

Forget universe, they exist in the same town. A 15-minute drive across Atlanta, there's a different women's health clinic with a different purpose. Along with pap smears and birth control, this clinic does abortions.

Brandy Hill:

It's always nice to know that what you're doing is impactful and important.

Sonam Vashi:

Brandy Hill escorts patients past protesters who picket the clinic almost every day that she volunteers. Some days, they pray ...

Male:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee ...

Sonam Vashi:

Some days, they shout.

Male:

Now you think it's okay to murder that human being. You're discriminating [inaudible 00:33:08]-

Sonam Vashi:

Whatever they do, Brandy ignores them.

Brandy Hill:

We do not engage. We have strict non-engagement, I barely look at them.

Sonam Vashi:

As she directs patients to the clinic entrance, she also serves as the buffer between them and the protesters. She's been called a baby-killer, an assassin, working at a child sacrifice center.

Brandy Hill:

It doesn't really matter what folks say. I think just because I'm a queer Black woman who comes from a working-class background, I am very used to negative things being said and people having a perspective about you and what you're doing and what you should and stereotypes. And to be honest, you just kind of build up a thick skin to it. You just kind of learn to not internalize that kind of stuff.

Sonam Vashi:

Brandy came to Atlanta to go to engineering school, but she grew up in Chicago. Her parents were both raised in devout Christian families, and Brandy was brought up to believe that abortion is wrong.

Brandy Hill:

I called myself pro-life at some point in my life. You get told something from a very young age, and it becomes visceral. You feel it, it feels right. It feels like the truth.

Sonam Vashi:

In high school, Brandy's AP literature class read The Handmaid's Tale.

Ann Dowd:

You girls will serve the leaders and their barren wives.

Sonam Vashi:

The dystopian novel where women are enslaved to produce children. Hulu made it into a TV series.

Ann Dowd:

You will bear children for them.

Sonam Vashi:

Brandy remembers that when her class discussed the novel, her teacher wrote the word feminist on the board.

Brandy Hill:

And she was like, what comes to mind when you see this word? And just let people talk and write whatever they wanted on the board. And so I distinctly remember, at some point during that conversation, I was like, oh wait, hold on, no. All of this makes sense. All of these feelings of having to do more as a girl but also being able to do less that I actually wanted to do, stuff that I felt forever but never had the language to really be able to say, like, oh, okay. That's why all of this stuff feels wrote. I was like, okay, hold on. Something is happening here, and it's worthy of further investigation.

Sonam Vashi:

When she got to college at Georgia Tech, she joined its women's resource center and an LGBTQ rights group. Then her junior year, she found herself unexpectedly pregnant. Brandy tried to get an abortion in Georgia, but she wound up going back to Illinois.

Brandy Hill:

It has way less restrictions than we do in Georgia, there's no waiting period, they have funds, the Chicago abortion fund that will help you pay for it. There's way more abortion clinics than there are down here. But when I went, they had had clinic escorts outside too. But there was, like, one dude with a sign who wasn't even saying nothing, so, you know what I mean? It was just way different.

Sonam Vashi:

As this year's elections returns trickled in, Brandy watched at home.

Speaker 28:

Fox News has announced that Trump might concede.

Brandy Hill:

Wow, really? I swear, I never thought in my life Georgia would even be close to being blue. That's crazy.

Sonam Vashi:

Georgians are deeply divided on many things, including their choice for president. But last year, a majority of state politicians united to pass one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Reporter:

Georgia's new standard? A fetal heartbeat, roughly six weeks in, before many women realize they're pregnant.

Sonam Vashi:

Before, Georgia allowed abortions until 20 weeks. The new law would ban any abortion after fetal cardiac activity could be detected. There are exceptions for rape or incest if reported to police, or if the pregnant woman could suffer major physical harm or die.

Reporter:

Courts struck down similar laws in Iowa, North Dakota and Kentucky.

Sonam Vashi:

Abortion rights advocates immediately challenged Georgia's law, and a federal judge struck it down. But it remains one of a number of laws potentially moving toward the Supreme Court to directly challenge Roe vs. Wade and Americans' right to abortion access.

Brandy Hill:

Morning. I'm volunteering this morning.

Sonam Vashi:

Just from seeing cars at the clinic where she volunteers, Brandy knows that when Georgia tightens its abortion laws, it affects people outside the state, too.

Brandy Hill:

It's not just about people in Atlanta or just about people in Georgia, you see license plates from Tennessee and Alabama and Kentucky. If it were to go into full effect, it's literally not even just Atlanta. It's the entire South.

Emily Mulkey:

Hello. Can you go wash your hands, you guys, with soap and water? First quesadilla's almost done.

Sonam Vashi:

At home with her family, Emily doubts the heartbeat law will go into effect. She doesn't believe Roe will be overturned. It's been around too long. But she'd be happy if it were.

Emily Mulkey:

I would like to see more restrictions. I think it should be a state issue, that's the whole point of having states, you can make different laws for different regions, and maybe there's more liberal areas that want it ... I can't make everybody have my same exact moral compass on everything.

Sonam Vashi:

For these two Georgians, the great American abortion divide comes down to this.

Emily Mulkey:

My choice is avoid getting pregnant to begin with, you know? Use the birth control. Avoid those situations that might get you pregnant, and then you don't have to make these horrible decisions.

Sonam Vashi:

Brandy knows this is not reality for everyone.

Brandy Hill:

We need to look at the fact that Black people have less access to birth control. We literally have more unplanned pregnancies.

Sonam Vashi:

And when people have unplanned pregnancies, she believes they need all options.

Brandy Hill:

I think an ideal state, you would just have control and agency over your reproduction system, period.

Al Letson:

Thanks to reporter Sonam Vashi and producer Neroli Price for bringing us that story.

Al Letson:

One of the most contentious issues throughout the Trump presidency has been immigration, especially now that he's tried to stop people from seeking asylum in this country. When we come back, how could those policies change under President-Elect Biden?

Arlene Amarante:

It would still require the new government quite a bit of work to undo all of the harm that has been done over the last four years.

Al Letson:

That's next on Reveal.

Al Letson:

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson, and I don't need to tell you, the days leading up to this election had a lot of people on edge. So much was riding on the outcome. That was especially true for this family.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:40:23]

Al Letson:

This is Hector. The father of five left Guatemala with his wife Alicia and their kids last year to seek asylum in the U.S. But now they're separated in an extreme way: Hector is in Mexico with two of his sons; his wife is in the U.S. with two of their other kids, and their oldest daughter is in an immigration detention facility. For months, they've been kept apart by Trump administration policies, including one that's required nearly 70,000 people to wait in Mexico while their asylums claims are processed.

Al Letson:

On Election Night, a large group of asylum seekers gathered to sing at a border camp in Mexico. Joe Biden has pledged to undo much of Trump's immigration agenda right when he takes office through executive action. From ending the travel ban from some Muslim countries to bringing back DACA protections, Biden also wants to end the Remain in Mexico policy. Reveal's Laura Morel spoke with Hector in Tijuana a few weeks ago. He said his family's entire future hinged on the outcome of this election.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:41:40]

Al Letson:

We never expected this, Hector says. But here we are, waiting. Our immigration team has been covering the ways Trump walled off asylum to families like Hector and Alicia's, and now that the race has been called for Biden, what it would take for his administration to chip away at that wall. Laura Morel and Patrick Michaels take it from here.

Laura Morel:

When I called Hector last month, the first thing I noticed about him was that he was quiet, but sweet, and eager to tell me about his family.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:42:17]

Laura Morel:

He told me that back in Guatemala, he worked 12-hour days planting and harvesting corn and beans.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:42:28]

Laura Morel:

He worked with Alicia, his wife of 25 years. Their days began in the fields at ended at the dinner table with their children, three sons and two daughters, ages 24 to 12. Then in late 2018, Hector was attacked and suffered serious injuries to his head and neck. We can't say more about their asylum case because they're concerned for their safety back in Guatemala if they're deported. For that same reason, we're not using Hector and Alicia's full names.

Laura Morel:

The family hid out for months while Hector recovered. In April 2019, they left Guatemala. The journey to Tijuana took three months. On a recent phone call, Alicia told me she felt an enormous sense of relief when they reached the border.

Alicia:

[Spanish 00:43:17]

Laura Morel:

I was so emotional, Alicia said.

Alicia:

[Spanish 00:43:24]

Laura Morel:

Because I thought we were saved. But the family's journey wasn't over, they needed to pay someone to help them cross, and they didn't have enough money for all seven of them. So Alicia and three of their children crossed first. Hector stayed in Tijuana to cobble together enough cash for himself and two sons. They crossed the next day.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:43:54]

Laura Morel:

We didn't walk for long, he says, before the Border Patrol found us. Because the family crossed in two trips, the agents split them up into separate immigration cases. To the family's surprise, the agents sent all of them back to Tijuana to wait for their court dates. Alicia and three of the kids were up first. On January 10th, they went to their hearing in San Diego.

Laura Morel:

At the hearing, the judge noticed an error in Alicia's paperwork and dismissed her case so the paperwork could be refiled. The government allowed Alicia and her two younger kids, who are teenagers, to stay in the U.S. But she was split up from her oldest daughter, who's 20 years old. It wasn't until the girl called a cousin in the U.S. that Alicia found out where her daughter was taken: an immigrant detention facility in Louisiana. And she's stayed there ever since.

Alicia:

[Spanish 00:44:58]

Laura Morel:

Almost 10 months of being imprisoned, Alicia tells me, it's been such a difficult time. They have family in Tennessee, so Alicia and her two teenagers live there now. They're staying at her cousin's house, and the kids are in school. Meanwhile, Hector and their two other sons remain 2,200 miles away in Tijuana.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:45:33]

Laura Morel:

It's been so difficult for me, Hector says. 25 years and I've never been separated from my wife and kids.

Laura Morel:

When we spoke, Hector was renting a one-bedroom house in Tijuana and his oldest son was working at a recycling plant. The election was just around the corner. Hector heard about it on Telemundo and knew that the results could affect his family's future. In the days since the election, we've been talking a lot on Reveal's immigration team about how to report on what comes next and what it all means for asylum-seeking families like Hector and Alicia's. My colleague Patrick Michaels has been working on this too.

Patrick Michaels:

Biden has promised big changes to immigration policy, but some of these strict limits on asylum go back to when he was vice-president.

Cecilia Muñoz:

We've got to make sure that we properly address the humanitarian claims, of those who have them, for people who are coming.

Patrick Michaels:

That's Cecilia Muñoz. This is a briefing in late summer 2014, when she was a top White House advisor on immigration to Barack Obama. Today, she's on Joe Biden's transition team.

Cecilia Muñoz:

And to make sure folks who end up being removable get removed. We need to send a strong deterrent message, as we have in Central America as well as within the United States.

Patrick Michaels:

In other words, help people with legitimate asylum claims, but scare off the people taking advantage of that generosity. At this moment, the Obama administration was in crisis mode. Tens of thousands of kids and families were arriving at the border.

Cecilia Muñoz:

As you know, we face a tremendous challenge, and doing right by the unaccompanied kids and the others who have come from Central America and who have arrived in great numbers at our borders ...

Patrick Michaels:

Joe Biden was at that same briefing. He had just come back from Central America on a fact-finding mission to figure out why so many kids were crossing into the U.S. He took the mic to report back from his trip.

Joe Biden:

Something has happened beyond the fact that there's utter despair. That despair existed a year ago and 18 months ago.

Patrick Michaels:

What had changed, he said, was the smugglers. Drug traffickers who realized they could make money by moving children across the border without their parents.

Joe Biden:

What's happened is that a group of folks got together and decided that there's a hell of a good way to make money. You just don't transfer drugs, give me $5,600 and I'll take your baby to the border, and your baby's going to be home-free.

Patrick Michaels:

The Obama administration blamed criminal traffickers for the change, and they really embraced this idea of trying to discourage people from making the journey to the U.S. ICE set up family detention centers where they would hold families for several weeks while they waited for their day in immigration court. In some cases, the administration separated children from their parents if those parents had criminal records or couldn't prove their relationship to the kids. And all of this laid some of the groundwork for Trump's much harsher policies, policies we've been covering for years.

Patrick Michaels:

Right after Trump was elected, border agents started letting just a few people cross each day. Reveal reported on this two years ago, when or former colleague Neena Satija met a man named Marcos camped out on a bridge, waiting to cross into the U.S.

Interpreter:

They've told us that it's full inside and they can't accept us.

Patrick Michaels:

And then there's the big one. As Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, described it ...

Jeff Sessions:

If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you. And that child may be separated from you.

Patrick Michaels:

Family separation.

Speaker 38:

But ladies and gentlemen, at this moment, this is America. This is us. This is what we are doing.

Patrick Michaels:

It started in late 2017. Our colleague on the immigration team, Aura Bogado, talked with one seven-year-old boy, Wilson, who'd been separated and kept in an office building in Phoenix. She showed him some photos to see if he could identify the worker who took him from his mother.

Aura Bogado:

Wilson is saying no, no, no, there's a whole bunch of nos. And then suddenly he does recognize one face.

Wilson:

[Spanish 00:49:52]

Patrick Michaels:

When children cross the border alone, ICE sometimes track them to arrest any undocumented family members who are waiting for them in the U.S. Like the case of one father we met in Philadelphia last year.

Aura Bogado:

They used the kids, he says, to get to parents like me.

Patrick Michaels:

And then there was the policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico until their court date. This is why Hector is stuck in Tijuana. Trump's Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, told Fox News about the policy in late 2018.

Kirstjen Nielsen:

So it'll do a couple things. One, it will decrease illegal immigration, which is what we've been trying to do. Two, it will help us focus on those that have a legitimate claim; three, it will reduce those that don't.

Patrick Michaels:

It's known as Remain in Mexico. We reached out to the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the policy for this story, but didn't get a response. We wanted to ask them about the danger to people like Hector and his sons. As of May, advocates documented more than 1,000 crimes committed against migrants stuck in Mexico, including kidnappings, rape and murder.

Laura Morel:

When Hector and Alicia crossed the border, they had no idea Remain in Mexico was in place. Joe Biden says he wants to eliminate the policy, reverse Trump's asylum restrictions, and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He talks less now about criminals and deterrents.

Joe Biden:

My immigration policy is built around keeping families together. Modernizing immigration system by keeping families, unification and diversity as pillars of our immigration system, which it used to be.

Laura Morel:

But the path forward is really unclear.

Arlene Amarante:

Well, the ... I don't even know where to begin, right?

Laura Morel:

That's Arlene Amarante, the immigration attorney representing Alicia.

Arlene Amarante:

Would still require the new government quite a bit of work to undo all the harm that has been done over the last four years.

Laura Morel:

After that work is done, the underlying question will still remain: who should get asylum here, and will that include Hector and Alicia and their children? They have no idea if their family will be reunited in the U.S., or when their daughter might be released from detention. Hector says they're so worried about her.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:52:11]

Laura Morel:

But during their phone calls, she tells them to stay calm, that everything is going to be okay.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:52:19]

Laura Morel:

One thing is certain: they don't plan on returning to Guatemala.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:52:29]

Laura Morel:

Hector tells me they don't want to look back, only forward.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:52:42]

Laura Morel:

And he hopes that God will help them build a good future.

Hector:

[Spanish 00:52:46]

Al Letson:

That story was from Reveal's Laura Morel and Patrick Michaels. Today's show was a huge team effort, thanks to Reveal's Stan Alcorn, Aura Bogado, Jen Chien, Andy Donohue, and Elizabeth Shogren. Emily Harris, Brett Myers, Laura Starecheski, and Taki Telonidis edited the show with help from Sumi Aggarwal. Special thanks to Bloomberg Quick Take, Sarah Alvarez at Outlier Media, the Detroit Free Press, and to Dana Coester and Ashton Marra at 100 Days in Appalachia.

Al Letson:

Thanks to Caitlin Dickerson at The New York Times, and Sandra Andrade for the recording of people singing at the border in our asylum story. Our theme music is by Camerado, Lightning. Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Al Letson:

Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.

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