Get Real! This Is What Sexual Incompatibility Looks Like

Heather Corinna

Someone telling you they don't want to be intimate and that they don't like it when you do sexual activities for them is usually telling you quite clearly that they just are not feeling it with you when it comes to sex.

haiguyz asks:

My partner
seems to pick and choose when she wants to fool around with me.
Whenever I want to do anything, she doesn’t, and if I get her to do
anything, she complains the whole way through. When she gives me head,
if I suggest things to do, she gives me an evil look, and tells me to
shut up, like she’s being humiliated. But just a few days ago, she took
me into my room and gave me head without me even asking or suggesting
in any way! She once told me she doesn’t like for me to do anything to
her or vice versa, but this just confuses me. I know it sounds like I’m
pushing her to do these things, but I have nothing but the utmost
respect for her. I just would like to be intimate with her more often.
When I tell her this, she brings up that she doesn’t really like
intimacy. I’m so confused!

Heather Corinna replies:

A lot of what I’m reading in your post suggests to me that you two are just not in a good place for sex together right now.

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Someone telling you they don’t want to be intimate, that they don’t
like it when you do sexual activities for them, that they don’t like to
do them for you is usually telling you quite clearly that they just are
not feeling it with you when it comes to sex, and that you two are not
a good sexual match. Partners pushing or coercing each other into sex
makes clear that one or both partners are not treating one another with
respect or care and aren’t really connecting with each other deeply. In
other words, it seems very clear to me you two probably are just not
compatible to a degree where some stuff that really is not okay has
been going on.

It’s rare for me to tell anyone that I just don’t think them having
sex, or having sex with someone else, is the right choice. As an
outsider, it’s precarious to make that kind of call, especially without
a lot of talking and personal history. But in this case, I feel pretty
strongly that is the best answer. I think either you two should not be
sexual with each other anymore altogether, or that you both need to
work a whole lot on your communication skills together much more first,
putting sex on the shelf until you do that work and make some real

So you can have a better sense of what I’m observing, let me give
you an idea of what healthy dynamics would look like with some of these

1. You want to do something sexual, and suggest doing it to your
partner. She doesn’t want to do that, or doesn’t want to be sexual at
that time, period. So you drop it. You do not keep asking or
pushing or "get" her to do that thing. You drop it and either suggest
other things, and either find something you both DO want to do or you
accept that when you can’t find something you both want to do, sex just
isn’t going to happen that day.

2. She chooses to have oral sex with you. You make a suggestion
about what feels best to you; what you like. She either then tries what
you suggest, or if for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to try that
thing, she nixes your suggestion in a way that’s kind and caring.
Telling someone to shut up or giving them dirty looks is not kind or
caring. If this is about her feeling she likes sex best when you do
most of your verbal communicating before any kind of sex or after, she
can say that, and you can work with that and talk about the things you
like in advance, but a partner should also always be able to speak up
during sex to suggest something, voice when something does or does not
feel god, or ask to press pause or stop with sex.

3. She discovers she’d like to give you oral sex, and takes you into
your room. She either suggests oral sex in advance of taking you or
says something like, "I’d like to give you oral sex," when you get in
there, looking to you to either consent to that or not. If you do not
consent to it, verbally, or with other kinds of cues you both know by
now to mean consent, she drops it. If she would like to arrange to do
something like that without any words, she has the option of asking you
a week, a day, or hours in advance if she can do that sometime, and you
two can arrange some other kind of cue so she can know you are or are
not consenting at that time. Over time in a relationship you’ll often
get to a point where both of you have nonverbal cues you know well to
mean consent or nonconsent, so you might not always need to discuss it,
but you still both need to be assuring consent before you move forward
with anything sexual.

4. You want sex more often than she does. So you accept that at a
time when any of us are the partner who wants sex more frequently, we
need to defer to the partner’s pace who wants it less frequently.
Otherwise, we’re forcing or pressuring someone to have sex when they
don’t want to — which means they are NOT fully consenting — or to
have sex out of feelings of obligation, rather than desire. If you
discover you’re in a sexual partnership with someone who just wants sex
way less often than works for you, you either accept their frequency as
what the deal is or know that that relationship just isn’t going to meet your own needs and seek out partners who match you better in that way.

Everyone should pick and choose — and have the right to pick and choose — when they do and don’t have sex with a partner.

No person in a sexual partnership should ever feel they should or
must have sex whenever the other partner wants to: we have sex with a
partner when both of us feel a mutual, shared desire to do so. For
partners who really do want to be sexual with one another, and who want
similar things — a similar frequency of sex, a handful of sexual
activities they both mutually enjoy, a general sexual dynamic of that
works and feels authentic for both — even though there will be times
when one partner wants to be sexual and another doesn’t, often those
times will overlap and intersect enough to leave everyone satisfied
with the relationship. When people in sexual relationship aren’t
similar in those ways, it’s going to be really tough to have a sexual
relationship that works well for everyone involved.

I want to make sure this is clear: consent is not a no or a maybe.
Nor is it someone caving into another person nagging, whining,
pressuring, goading or pushing for sex. Consent is a big, fat, sure,
clear YES. If either one of you are continuing or trying to continue
sex with the other with anything but that sure yes, what you’re doing
is NOT consensual, and is potentially abuse or rape. This is not a
minor thing or a whatever: this is very serious business. To give real
consent, someone needs to be able to make decisions about sex without
any feelings of pressure. No always needs to be just as okay an answer
as yes, even if someone has to manage feelings of disappointment.

I also want to make clear that a partner telling another partner to
shut up when they are trying to communicate about sex is not healthy.
Certainly, sometimes people do that playfully — some folks use "shut
up" in a casual way — but this isn’t sounding like it was playful or
like it feels playful to you. Not getting someone’s consent with a
sexual activity, such as her pulling you into a room and just moving
forward if you didn’t want that and give her clear verbal or visual
cues you did, is also not okay, and may not have been consensual.

It may just be that you two are very different people sexually, or
at very different places in your sexuality, so it could be that the WAY
you are giving her cues during oral sex, for instance, isn’t a way she
likes or is receptive to. For instance, even something like the
language we use to talk about sex can be something one partner loves,
and another partner really dislikes. I don’t know what it is you have
been expressing to her during oral sex. What you’re asking might be
something like suggesting she move a bit more slowly or quickly, or
suggesting she focus on one area of your genitals rather than another,
which most people (who earnestly want to be sexual with you) should
receive positively. On the other hand, if you’re barking orders at her,
or using language for sex she finds offensive or a turnoff, or asking
her to do things she’s already told you she doesn’t like doing and
doesn’t want to do, that certainly may be part of that problematic
dynamic. In other words, she may look humiliated because she feels
humiliated. Some of her actions may also be because she feels like she
wants to initiate sex more, or call her own shots more in your sex
life, too. If that’s the case, that could also be why she’s behaving
the way she is: she may feel there’s not enough space for her to be the
driver in your sexual relationship. Of course, if you’re not always
really getting her consent, what happened with her doing something
without yours may have been something she assumed was okay because it
seems to her to be how you do things with her.

However, in a healthy relationship that’s something she should feel free to tell you, and should
tell you, and then you two can figure out healthy ways you both feel
good about to change those dynamics. In a healthy relationship, we
don’t just react: we reflect, communicate and respond thoughtfully. But
what I suspect is that the issue is bigger than that.

My feeling is that one or both of you aren’t quite ready for
partnered sex, or not with each other, anyway. To be honest, while I
hear you saying you respect her, I’m getting the feeling you two don’t
really even like each other very much: these scenarios just don’t sound
to me like those of two people who truly like each other. They look a
lot more like two people at odds with one another, and who are in a
power struggle.

I want to acknowledge that management skills for our sexuality and
sexual lives aren’t something we’re born with, but skills we learn. No
one can expect anyone to just have these skills or be an ace with them
right off the bat, nor to learn them in environments or relationships
which don’t nurture them. Sometimes we may have excellent models for
these skills, but more times than not in our cultures, people have not
had good or healthy modeling around sex. If one or both of your
families or communities just never talked to either of you about how to
manage your sexuality or sexual relationships, or about sex at all, and
all of your information on that has come from your peers — who often
also don’t magically have these skills, and also who often aren’t
honest with each other about their sex lives — or the media, chances
are good the modeling you have had hasn’t been healthy, sound or

One or both of you also may have had models that enabled certain
unhealthy behaviors around or ideas about sex a lot people presume to
be healthy, normal or just "how it is," when, in fact, some of that
stuff isn’t healthy, isn’t likely to lead to a mutually satisfying sex
life with someone, and certainly isn’t how it has to be. For example,
your girlfriend may have gotten modeling that says that talking during
sex isn’t sexy or okay, even though people in healthy, satisfying
relationships talk about sex and during sex all the time. She may have
gotten modeling that says consent from men isn’t something women need
to obtain. You may have gotten some modeling which suggests that it’s
okay or normal to have to goad women into sex, or that men should
expect women to be available for sex whenever men want them to be:
those, too, are not healthy models which lead to a satisfying,
equitable sex life with a partner.

Breaking silences around sexuality and starting to have real, honest
and open conversations about sex with friends, partners, parents and
good mentors, and unlearning poor modeling takes effort, time and life
experience: more of all three than many young people have had the
chance to have yet. There’s a long learning curve with all of this, and
sometimes any two people just aren’t at a point in that learning curve
where partnered sex, or certain kinds of partnered sex are wise or
likely to be positive. My feeling is that one or both of you have more
learning to do, and more skills and tools for managing your sexual life
and sexual communication before sex with each other or other partners
is going to be the good stuff.

I know some people have this idea that at a certain age, everyone is
ready for partnersex, but I just don’t agree. I say that because I
noticed you’re 19, so you might feel like what I’m saying is about
teens younger than you. The thing is, how old we are only has so much
to do with all of this. It also doesn’t have much to do with if we and
someone else are a good fit together. While some people at 19 — or 29,
or 59 — have unpacked negative modeling or yucky sexual dynamics, many
others have not. We all have our own learning curve, and the dynamics
of our relationships all differ depending on who is in them and what
that unique alchemy is like. I’m saying what I am not based on your
age, but on my perceptions of where you both may be at from information
you gave me in your question.

So, what are your options?

Do you two have a good relationship otherwise? When we’re not
dealing with sex, do you earnestly care for one another and both really
enjoy the time you spend together? Do you have lots of areas of common
interest, and also find that what both of you want and need in a
romantic relationship are in alignment? If and when you have any kind
of disagreement or conflict in other areas, do you communicate openly
and well together and find that you can resolve disputes in ways both
of you feel good about and satisfied with? Do you talk deeply about
other things, and connect deeply in other areas of your relationship?

If you answered yes to all or most of those questions, you might be
able to resolve these issues in time if you’re both committed to
changing the current dynamics and working through this together.

To do that, you’d want to start by bringing all the things I’m
telling you here — and the thoughts of your own they inspired — to
the table with her and do some real talking about it, probably having
more than just one talk. You’ll want to discuss issues like consent and
how both of you should be obtaining and respecting it, as well as
better and more compassionate communication, making clear both are
seriously important and necessary. It would be a good idea for each of
you to talk about your expectations around sex, what you feel you each
want and need, like and dislike. You should take responsibility for any
of your own behavior which may not have been healthy, such as if you
have been pushing her to do things sometimes when she has already said
no. She, ideally, will responsibility for hers, too, such as owning up
to the fact that telling you to shut up during sex isn’t okay. Then you
both can create some solid agreements around all of this. Those
agreements would include things like being clear that neither of you is
ever obligated to be sexual with the other when you don’t want
to, that one no is all either of you will ever need, that both will
always seek out and ask for consent, that you will both talk more about
all of this from here on out, and try to do so in a way that helps
develop communication rather than shutting it down.

While couples are working out major sexual problems, I feel it’s
best to take sex off the table while doing that. It’s just too hard to
try and talk through all of this stuff and create new patterns while
you’re still participating in the old ones, and it generally is going
to take time to get to a new place. Until you do get to that place, I
just don’t see the sex you two will have being a healthy thing. Since
pressure and obligation seem to have been issues, I also think that
you’d both benefit by taking any expectations of sex off the table for
a while so both of you can really develop a feeling of freedom from
those dynamics.

If you guys don’t have such a great relationship outside of sex,
though, you may not be able to do all of those things, or even get your
foot in the door to start working on them together. If that’s the case,
or you feel you can’t even have these talks, or have tried with no
success, I think it’s a good idea for the two of you to put an end to
your sexual relationship, full-stop.

Finding people with whom we are truly compatible in intimate
relationships in often is not easy, and can tend to take a good deal of
trial and error. It’s not like we’re going to be a good match on all
levels with everyone who we like and who likes us back, or to whom
we’re sexually attracted and is also attracted to us. From talking with
young people over the years, I get the impression that some think that
if any two people find one another physically attractive, both want to
be "in a relationship" (I put that in quotes because it’s not like that
means the same thing to everyone), and both are available, that’s about
all that is required for everything to be hunky-dory.

But that’s the stuff that only just opens the door to a relationship being a possibility,
not what makes for the right ones, for healthy ones, for those which
meet everyone’s wants and needs. For that, you have to have a lot of
your wants and needs in alignment, to be in a similar emotional and
intellectual place in your lives and development, to create and nurture
solid and deep communication. That’s why we tend to talk about dating
as a process, and separate dating from committed or long-term
relationships we pursue and build — if we want to — when all of that
is going on.

While that process can be frustrating and lonely at times, it is
what it is. We can’t make a house that will withstand time and the
elements without good raw materials and quality construction, and the
same goes for relationships.

I’d suggest reading through all of this again, including your own
words here, because I think even if I hadn’t answered, the information
you need is something you already had. You knew from the get-go, after
all, that what’s been going on hasn’t been working, big-time. Then give
yourself some time to figure out what the best route is going to be for
you: you might want to think about this on your own for a little while,
maybe even asking your girlfriend for a few days or weeks apart so you
can do that. I’d also suggest you trust your intuition when it comes to
if this earnestly feels like a quality, healthy relationship to you.

I’ll leave you with a few extra links I hope will be useful for you
in thinking about this, making your decisions about this relationship,
and in communicating together about this no matter what you decide, as
well as for navigating your sexual relationships in the future. Good
luck sorting everything out, and I hope whatever decisions you both
make get you to a better place.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

Analysis Human Rights

From Protected Class to High-Priority Target: How the ‘System Is Rigged’ Against Unaccompanied Migrant Children

Tina Vasquez

Vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation.

This is the first article in Rewire’s two-part series about the U.S. immigration system’s effects on unaccompanied children.

Earlier this month, three North Carolina high school students were released from a Lumpkin, Georgia, detention center after spending more than six months awaiting what seemed like their inevitable fate: deportation back to conditions in Central America that threatened their lives.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta, Josue Alexander Soriano Cortez, and Yefri Sorto-Hernandez were released on bail in the span of one week, thanks to an overwhelming community effort involving pro bono attorneys and bond money. However, not everyone targeted under the same government operation has been reprieved. For example, by the time reports emerged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had detained Acosta on his way to school in Durham, North Carolina, the government agency had already quietly deported four other young people from the state, including a teenage girl from Guatemala who attended the same school.

Activated in January, that program—Operation Border Guardian—continues to affect the lives of hundreds of Central American migrants over the age of 18 who came to the United States as unaccompanied children after January 2014. Advocates believe many of those arrested under the operation are still in ICE custody.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson has said that the goal of Operation Border Guardian is to send a message to those in Central America considering seeking asylum in the United States. But it’s not working, as Border Patrol statistics have shown. Furthermore, vulnerable, undocumented youth who pose no real threat are being stripped of their right to an education and instead sit in detention awaiting deportation. These youth arrived at the border in hopes of qualifying for asylum, but were unable to succeed in an immigration system that seems rigged against them.

“The laws are really complicated and [young people] don’t have the community support to navigate this really hostile, complex system. That infrastructure isn’t there and unless we support asylum seekers and other immigrants in this part of the country, we’ll continue to see asylum seekers and former unaccompanied minors receive their deportation orders,” said Julie Mao, the enforcement fellow at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

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“A Grossly Misnamed” Operation

In January, ICE conducted a series of raids that spanned three southern states—Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas—targeting Central American asylum seekers. The raids occurred under the orders of Johnson, who has taken a hardline stance against the more than 100,000 families who have sought asylum in the United States. These families fled deadly gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in recent years. In El Salvador, in particular, over 400 children were murdered by gang members and police officers during the first three months of 2016, doubling the country’s homicide rate, which was already among the highest in the world.

ICE picked up some 121 people in the early January raids, primarily women and their young children. Advocates argue many of those arrested were detained unlawfully, because as people who experienced severe trauma and exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety, and depression, they were disabled as defined under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and ICE did not provide reasonable accommodations to ensure disabled people were not denied meaningful access to benefits or services.

Just a few weeks later, on January 23, ICE expanded the raids’ focus to include teenagers under Operation Border Guardian, which advocates said represented a “new low.”

The media, too, has also criticized DHS for its seemingly senseless targeting of a population that normally would be considered refugees. The New York Times called Operation Border Guardian “a grossly misnamed immigration-enforcement surge that went after people this country did not need to guard against.”

In response to questions about its prioritization of former unaccompanied minors, an ICE spokesperson told Rewire in an emailed statement: “As the secretary has stated repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration. If someone was apprehended at the border, has been ordered removed by an immigration court, has no pending appeal, and does not qualify for asylum or other relief from removal under our laws, he or she must be sent home. We must and we will enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities.”

DHS reports that 336 undocumented Central American youth have been detained in the operation. It’s not clear how many of these youth have already been deported or remain in ICE custody, as the spokesperson did not respond to that question by press time.

Acosta, Cortez, Sorto-Hernandez, and three other North Carolina teenagersSantos Geovany Padilla-Guzman, Bilmer Araeli Pujoy Juarez, Pedro Arturo Salmeron—have become known as the NC6 and the face of Operation Border Guardian, a designation they likely would have not signed up for.

Advocates estimate that thousands of deportations of low-priority migrants—those without a criminal history—occur each week. What newly arrived Central American asylum seekers like Acosta could not have known was that the federal government had been laying the groundwork for their deportations for years.

Asylum Seekers Become “High-Priority Cases”

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced it would begin reviewing immigration cases individually, allowing ICE to focus its resources on “high-priority cases.” The assumption was that those who pose a threat to public safety, for example, would constitute the administration’s highest priority, not asylum-seeking high school students.

But there was an indication from DHS that asylum-seeking students would eventually be targeted and considered high-priority. After Obama’s announcement, ICE released a statement outlining who would constitute its “highest priorities,” saying, “Specifically individuals who pose a threat to public safety such as criminal aliens and national security threats, as well as repeat immigration law violators and recent border entrants.”

In the years since, President Obama has repeatedly said “recent border crossers” are among the nation’s “highest priorities” for removal—on par with national security threats. Those targeted would be migrants with final orders of removal who, according to the administration, had received their day in court and had no more legal avenues left to seek protection. But, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported, “recent border entrant” is a murky topic, and it doesn’t appear as if all cases are being reviewed individually as President Obama said they would.

“Recent border entrant” can apply to someone who has been living in the United States for three years, and a border removal applies “whenever ICE deports an individual within three years of entry—regardless of whether the initial entry was authorized—or whenever an individual is apprehended by Customs and Border Protection (CBP),” explained Thomas Homan, the head of ICE’s removal operations in a 2013 hearing with Congress, the ACLU reported.

Chris Rickerd, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, added that “[b]ecause CBP refuses to screen the individuals it apprehends for their ties to the U.S., and DHS overuses procedures that bypass deportation hearings before a judge, many ‘border removals’ are never fully assessed to determine whether they have a legal right to stay.”

Over the years, DHS has only ramped up the department’s efforts to deport newly arrived immigrants, mostly from Central America. As the Los Angeles Times reported, these deportations are “an attempt by U.S. immigration officials to send a message of deterrence to Central America and avoid a repeat of the 2014 crisis when tens of thousands of children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala arrived at the U.S. border.”

This is something Mao takes great issue with.

“These raids that we keep seeing are being done in order to deter another wave of children from seeking asylum—and that is not a permissible reason,” Mao said. “You deport people based on legality, not as a way of scaring others. Our country, in this political moment, is terrorizing young asylum seekers as a way of deterring others from presenting themselves at the border, and it’s pretty egregious.”

There is a direct correlation between surges of violence in the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and an uptick in the number of asylum seekers arriving in the United States. El Salvador, known as the murder capital of the word, recently saw an explosion of gang violence. Combine that with the possible re-emergence of so-called death squads and it’s clear why the number of Salvadoran family units apprehended on the southern border increased by 96 percent from 2015 to 2016, as Fusion reported.

Much like Mao, Elisa Benitez, co-founder of the immigrants rights’ organization Alerta Migratoria NC, believes undocumented youth are being targeted needlessly.

“They should be [considered] low-priority just because they’re kids, but immigration is classifying them at a very high level, meaning ICE is operating like this is a population that needs to be arrested ASAP,” Benitez said.

The Plight of Unaccompanied Children

Each member of the NC6 arrived in the United States as an unaccompanied child fleeing violence in their countries of origin. Acosta, for example, was threatened by gangs in his native Honduras and feared for his life. These young people should qualify as refugees based on those circumstances under international law. In the United States, after they present themselves at the border, they have to prove to an immigration judge they have a valid asylum claim—something advocates say is nearly impossible for a child to do with no understanding of the immigration system and, often, with no access to legal counsel—or they face deportation.

Unaccompanied children, if not immediately deported, have certain protections once in the United States. For example, they cannot be placed into expedited removal proceedings. According to the American Immigration Council, “they are placed into standard removal proceedings in immigration court. CBP must transfer custody of these children to Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), within 72 hours.”

While their court proceedings move forward, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement manages the care of the children until they can ideally be released to their parents already based in the country. Sometimes, however, they are placed with distant relatives or U.S. sponsors. Because HHS has lowered its safety standards regarding placement, children have been subjected to sexual abuse, labor trafficking, and severe physical abuse and neglect, ThinkProgress has reported.

If while in the care of their family or a sponsor they miss a court date, detainment or deportation can be triggered once they turn 18 and no longer qualify for protections afforded to unaccompanied children. 

This is what happened to Acosta, who was placed with his mother in Durham when he arrived in the United States. ICE contends that Acosta was not targeted unfairly; rather, his missed court appearance triggered his order for removal.

Acosta’s mother told local media that after attending his first court date, Acosta “skipped subsequent ones on the advice of an attorney who told him he didn’t stand a chance.”

“That’s not true, but it’s what they were told,” Benitez said. “So, this idea that all of these kids were given their day in court is false. One kid [we work with] was even told not to sign up for school because ‘there was no point,’ it would just get him deported.”

Benitez told Rewire the reasons why these young people are being targeted and given their final orders of removal need to be re-examined.

Sixty percent of youth from Central America do not ever have access to legal representation throughout the course of their case—from the time they arrive in the United States and are designated as unaccompanied children to the time they turn 18 and are classified as asylum seekers. According to the ACLU, 44 percent of the 23,000 unaccompanied children who were required to attend immigration court this year had no lawyer, and 86 percent of those children were deported.

Immigration attorneys and advocates say that having a lawyer is absolutely necessary if a migrant is to have any chance of winning an asylum claim.

Mao told Rewire that in the Southeast where Acosta and the other members of the NC6 are from, there is a pipeline of youth who arrived in the United States as unaccompanied children who are simply “giving up” on their valid asylum claims because navigating the immigration system is simply too hard.

“They feel the system is rigged, and it is rigged,” Mao said.

Mao has been providing “technical assistance” for Acosta and other members of the NC6. Her organization doesn’t represent individuals in court, she said, but the services it provides are necessary because immigration is such a unique area of law and there are very few attorneys who know how to represent individuals who are detained and who have been designated unaccompanied minors. Those services include providing support, referrals, and technical assistance to advocates, community organizations, and families on deportation defense and custody issues.

Fighting for Asylum From Detention

Once arrested by ICE, there is no telling if someone will linger in detention for months or swiftly be deported. What is known is that if a migrant is taken by ICE in North Carolina, somewhere along the way, they will be transferred to Lumpkin, Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center. As a local paper reported, Stewart is “the last stop before they send you back to whatever country you came from.”

Stewart is the largest detention center in the country, capable of holding 2,000 migrants at any time—it’s also been the subject of numerous investigations because of reports of abuse and inadequate medical care. The detention center is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest private prison provider and one that has become synonymous with maintaining inhumane conditions inside of its detention centers. According to a report from the National Immigrant Justice Center, Stewart’s remote location—over two hours away from Atlanta—hinders the facility from attracting and retaining adequate medical staff, while also creating barriers to visitation from attorneys and family members.

There’s also the matter of Georgia being notoriously tough on asylum seekers, even being called the “worst” place to be an undocumented immigrant. The Huffington Post reported that “Atlanta immigration judges have been accused of bullying children, badgering domestic violence victims and setting standards for relief and asylum that lawyers say are next to impossible to meet.” Even more disconcerting, according to a project by Migrahack, which pairs immigration reporters and hackers together, having an attorney in Georgia had almost no effect on whether or not a person won their asylum case, with state courts denying up to 98 percent of asylum requests. 

Acosta, Cortez, and Sorto-Hernandez spent over six months in Stewart Detention Center before they were released on baila “miracle” according to some accounts, given the fact that only about 5 percent of those detained in Stewart are released on bond.

In the weeks after ICE transferred Acosta to Stewart, there were multiple times Acosta was on the verge of deportation. ICE repeatedly denied Acosta was in danger, but advocates say they had little reason to believe the agency. Previous cases have made them wary of such claims.

Advocates believe that three of the North Carolina teens who were deported earlier this year before Acosta’s case made headlines were kept in detention for months with the goal of wearing them down so that they would sign their own deportation orders despite having valid asylum claims.

“They were tired. They couldn’t handle being in detention. They broke down and as much as they feared being returned to their home countries, they just couldn’t handle being there [in detention] anymore. They’d already been there for weeks,” Benitez said.

While ICE claims the average stay of a migrant in Stewart Detention Center is 30 days, the detention center is notorious for excessively long detainments. Acosta’s own bunkmate had been there over a year, according to Indy Week reporter David Hudnall.

As Hudnall reported, there is a massive backlog of immigration cases in the system—474,000 nationally and over 5,000 in North Carolina.

Mao told Rewire that the amount of time the remaining members of the NC6 will spend in detention varies because of different legal processes, but that it’s not unusual for young people with very strong asylum cases to sign their rights away because they can’t sustain the conditions inside detention.

Pedro Arturo Salmeron, another NC6 member, is still in detention. He was almost deported, but Mao told Rewire her organization was able to support a pro bono attorney in appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to stop proceedings.

Japeth Matemu, an immigration attorney, recently told Indy Week’s David Hudnall that “the BIA will tell you that it can’t modify the immigration judge’s ruling unless it’s an egregious or obvious miscarriage of justice. You basically have to prove the judge is off his rocker.”

It could take another four months in detention to appeal Salmeron’s case because ICE continues to refuse to release him, according to the legal fellow.

“That’s a low estimate. It could be another year in detention before there is any movement in his case. We as an organization feel that is egregious to detain someone while their case is pending,” Mao said. “We have to keep in mind that these are kids, and some of these kids can’t survive the conditions of adult prison.”

Detention centers operate as prisons do, with those detained being placed in handcuffs and shackles, being stripped of their personal belongings, with no ability to move around freely. One of Acosta’s teachers told Rewire he wasn’t even able to receive his homework in detention.

Many of those in detention centers have experienced trauma. Multiple studies confirm that “detention has a profoundly negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being” and in the particular case of asylum seekers, detention may exacerbate their trauma and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“People are so traumatized by the raids, and then you add detention on top of that. Some of these kids cannot psychologically and physically deal with the conditions in detention, so they waive their rights,” Mao said.

In March, Salmeron and fellow NC6 member Yefri Sorto-Hernandez received stays of deportation, meaning they would not face immediate deportation. ICE says a stay is like a “legal pause.” During the pause, immigration officials decide if evidence in the case will be reconsidered for asylum. Sorto-Hernandez was released five months later.

Benitez said that previously when she organized around detention, a stay of deportation meant the person would get released from detention, but ICE’s decision to detain some of the NC6 indefinitely until their cases are heard illustrates how “weirdly severe” the agency is being toward this particular population. Mao fears this is a tactic being used by ICE to break down young people in detention.

“ICE knows it will take months, and frankly up to a year, for some of these motions to go through the court system, but the agency is still refusing to release individuals. I can’t help but think it’s with the intention that these kids will give up their claims while suffering in detention,” Mao said.

“I think we really have to question that, why keep these young people locked up when they can be with their communities, with their families, going to school? ICE can release these kids now, but for showmanship, ICE is refusing to let them go. Is this who we want to be, is this the message we want to send the world?” she asked.

In the seven months since the announcement of Operation Border Guardian, DHS has remained quiet about whether or not there will be more raids on young Central American asylum seekers. As a new school year approaches, advocates fear that even more students will be receiving their orders for removal, and unlike the NC6, they may not have a community to rally around them, putting them at risk of quietly being deported and not heard from again.


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