Get Real! Pornography, Strip Clubs & Other Feminist Relationship Quandaries

Heather Corinna

Plenty of things that have been or still are considered "traditional," are or may be based in sexism or other kinds of inequality.

This article is published in partnership with
sylviaplath asks:

could really use some help on this issue. I am a feminist, and pride
myself on being open-minded and trying to keep my insecurities in
check. I have been with my boyfriend for years, and we have lived
together for 2. Within the past few months I have been looking at his
computer and seeing that he watches pornography. While I do try to
understand why, I cannot help but feel hurt. It brings up issues I have
with my own body and makes me feel bad and inadequate. While I am
trying to come to grips with this, I have found out that his friend is
getting married and they are going on a trip. I know they will be going
to strip clubs, and this is making me crazy. He is not the type of guy
who would cheat on me or that would probably really enjoy this, but
then again I didn’t think he was the type to watch porn. I feel like I
have become more paranoid knowing about this porn-viewing and now I am
not able to see clearly this situation. My main question is, if he gets
a lap dance, this is considered cheating, right? It seems like this
male tradition that for some reason is okay, and it’s just this free
pass. Should I talk to him about it? Do I have a right to be upset? I
feel so anxious and like I’m losing my grip with him and with my own
feminism. Please help me.

Heather Corinna replies:

don’t think that how we feel emotionally is ever about a matter of
rights. We cannot control what we feel, after all: we can only control
how we process, hold, express and manage our feelings. You feel upset:
whether or not you or anyone else thinks you have a right to have those
feelings, there they are. We feel what we feel, and I certainly think
we are all entitled to the full range of our feelings.

What cheating is depends on what any given couple have negotiated
and agreed on in their relationship model. Not every relationship has
the same fence around it, and there is no unilateral definition of
monogamy. What one couple agrees must be exclusive isn’t the same as
what another does. Because every person and every partnership is
different, there is no one set of rules for all. What your rules are is
something you need to determine together. In some relationships, using
pornography or going to strip clubs would not be considered cheating:
in others, one or both would.

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As a fellow feminist, I don’t need to tell you that there are plenty
of things that have been or still are considered "traditional," to do
or think but which are or may be based in sexism or other kinds of
inequality. Because something has some kind of historical precedent
doesn’t mean that automatically makes it okay, that no one gets to have
a problem with it, or that no one can suggest that precedent is crap if
that’s how they — as an individual or as a group — feel about it. For
instance, the idea and practice that women should be who takes all the
responsibility or the lion’s share of child-rearing and housekeeping
is, effectively, a "tradition," but it’s one based in sexism. Feminists
quite unilaterally, as individuals and as a group, have voiced problems
with that tradition since feminism began.

I don’t know what other parts of your relationship may include
agreements one or both of you have just assumed, rather than earnestly
made together, but clearly one of the areas where you need to make some
clear agreements is with your agreements around sexual exclusivity and

You need to first figure out what you want and need when it comes to
the level of exclusivity of your relationship on your own: to do so
with a sense of what you want and need and also what you think
will be best for your relationship as a whole. If you strongly feel
that going to a strip club and/or being part of any services there is
both not okay with you and something you feel isn’t healthy for or
wanted by you in your relationship, and that is also not what you
consider monogamous (which sounds like how you feel about this), then
you put that on the table.

If what you feel on this (or any other issue) and need around it is
a hard limit, you say so. If it’s something you feel you can negotiate
around, then you say that. Then he gets to voice his feelings on the
matter, and you both consider each others’ ideas and feelings, then
work to find some agreement around both of your perspectives that
leaves you both feeling good and assures both your needs get met. The
same goes for his use of pornography. You get to decide if you are or
are not okay with a partnership where your partner uses pornography.
Whatever your objection to porn is based in, you get to have your own
objections, and you also get to choose partnerships which are in
alignment with your feelings. You have to also accept the other person
gets to do same: this isn’t about trying to change someone, after all,
unless that person already wanted to change, for themselves.

What that also means, though, is that you need to assert yourself
and put things like this on the table with potential partners, with as
much respect for your own preferences, ideas and wants as you have for
theirs. You being able to be who you are and want to be as an
individual has to be as important as you wanting to be in a
relationship. If and when a potential or current partner wants or does
things — be it porn or a lap dance, wanting or not wanting kids or
marriage — that you feel will or do not work for you, you need to
advocate for yourself from a position of wanting an equal and
well-suited partnership that best meets both your needs, rather than
from a position where one person’s needs or identity come first and the
other just has to suck it up. This obviously also means you have to be
prepared to negotiate or to potentially walk away from relationships
that don’t fit your wants and needs where the other person feels they
can’t or don’t want to negotiate to try and seek out a compromise that
works for both of you.

My suggestion for a good start with these issues in your current
relationship is to take out paper and pen and make three columns: one
for what your ideals are and what you really want, one for what isn’t
ideal for you, but you’d be okay with or could adapt to and a third for
total dealbreakers. For example, in addressing sexual exclusivity, I
may ideally want a primary romantic relationship where for right now,
we’re exclusive for any kind of genital sex (which I’d frame lap dances
as), but where that agreement is understood as something either of us
can revisit and potentially revise at any time. Let’s say it’s not my
ideal, but I could be okay with walking into a negotiated, honest open
relationship so long as certain rules are in place and any other
partners or situations are okayed first by myself or my partner. Let’s
make my dealbreaker someone who wanted to go outside the relationship
for genital sex with other partners without negotiating that with me,
or who planned to do whatever they wanted regardless of my feelings.

I’d make that list as involved as you can, encompassing as many
issues as possible. You also may find it’s a good relationship exercise
to have both of you make these lists then compare them.

When you’re done, take a look at your lists and evaluate how your
current relationship looks in that context. If it’s in alignment with a
whole lot of the first column and some of the second, with little to
none in the third, then you’re probably looking at a relationship which
fits you pretty well overall. You can then take any issues in your
second or third column that are a factor and discuss them with this
partner, working together to try and create agreements that feel good
to both of you. I know that sometimes that’s intimidating: if we really
want to be in a given relationship — or are afraid of being without
one — it can seem safer not to set hard limits and advocate for
oneself, and instead put your energy into trying to live with things
you really don’t want to. And while avoiding hard issues or potential
disagreements may well keep a relationship from ending, it won’t
nurture a particularly happy or healthy one.

You also just don’t always know how a partner really feels about
things until you really talk them out. It may be that he feels
differently about things in your dealbreaker column than you’re
currently presuming he does. You may think something is in his ideal,
column, for instance, that’s actually in the middle one; that’s
something he really could live with or without more easily than you’d
think. Some partners who use pornography, for instance, do so more out
of rote habit than anything else, and if they felt it was hurting a
partner or a love relationship, would be totally down with trying life
without it. Some men who might only go to a strip club with other men
to keep the peace or not have their masculinity put into question may
feel more emboldened to opt out or state an objection to it with a
partner’s support. You just never know.

While any of us, at any age, may have strong wants, needs and
dealbreakers we know about in advance, more often how we get to know
what all of these are for us is something that’s part of our
development, and which we discover over time. As you gain life and
relationship experience, you’ll have a better sense of what your wants
and needs, limits and boundaries are before you even start a new
relationship. Few people come to romantic or sexual relationships
knowing exactly what they want and need right at the gate: most of us
learn a lot of this as we go. Few people also first come to
relationships with anyone having explained to them that the "rules" of
any given relationship are something you make together, not something
writ in stone for all people. There is no one set of rules, no one
relationship model: what there is is what we make, be it with or
without awareness and conscious choice, but I’d encourage you to go for
the former rather than the latter.

It’s obviously a lot easier to negotiate terms of a relationship
when you start doing so right at the gate, and then simply adjust and
adapt them as need be. Even if you two have never really talked about
what your agreement to monogamy means, though, as people in a long-term
partnership who also cohabitate, you’ve probably negotiated at least
some things together, like the sex you have (or don’t) or how you split
household responsibilities and finances. Bring whatever skills you have
developed from those kinds of negotiations to this one.

It may be that your long-term partner is not in agreement with you
on these matters. You may find yourselves at an impasse, where to
continue the relationship as it is, one or both of you would need to do
or tolerate something you don’t really want to. Suffice it to say, if
you’re looking at that list you made and discovering that when it comes
to a relationship, you have very little that’s in that first column,
and most of what’s in your second and third, you probably want to
re-evaluate staying in this relationship, period. The best advice I can
give you is that it’s important in a relationship that everyone
involved is able to have a complete sense of self, to be who they are
and to never feel they need to compromise who their best self is in or
for a relationship. What our interpersonal relationships should be made
of is exactly who both of us are at our best together, with both of our
whole selves intact, loved and respected.

If you ever find a relationship asks you or your partner to
compromise your or their values or ethics, or asks you to be someone
other than who you really are, you’ll want to deeply consider if that
really is a good relationship to stick with and stay in. Because if it
does, it really is best to move on, seeking out partnerships that don’t
require that of either person; partnerships where on the things you
both feel strongest about, there’s a pretty easy accord and alignment.

One thing I want to be sure to mention is that a lot of women have
the idea that if they are going to be sexually or romantically involved
with men, they have to just accept that all men use pornography, or
will go to strip clubs, or will be sexual with others outside a
relationship, even if they’re not okay with those things. Know that
that isn’t true. Yes, many men purchase or use pornography, and many
frequent strip clubs. But there are also men who don’t do either. Some
don’t because they have no interest in those things. Some don’t because
a partner has expressed they find it hurtful or unhealthy in the
relationship, and they feel their partner and their relationship are
more important to them than porn, lap dances or falling in line with
other men. And some don’t even with partners who would be okay
with those things, expressly because those men feel those things are
sexist and/or not in alignment with their values.

I hope you know there isn’t any one feminism: we all have our own
feminisms and they vary widely. I’d certainly question if anyone really
was feminist who wasn’t on board with the goal of equity and equality
for all genders, and equity and equality for all women, but outside
that core value, even when it comes to how any of us think we can best
reach that goal, there is a lot of diversity.

Some feminists are okay with pornography or sex work (in general
and/or when it comes to themselves or partners participating in
either). Others are not. Our feelings can also depend on what we’re
talking about, be that about how porn is is made or in what environment
sex work takes place, what activities or attitudes either include, if
it is violent or nonviolent or how someone sees or utilizes it. For
some, these opinions are based on how those things make them feel about
themselves, while for others it’s more about the perceived impact (or
lack of impact) they see or understand porn or sex work as having on
women as a class or on the women who do sex work.

If it helps, here are some pieces to show you a brief spectrum of
feminist thought and positions on pornography and sex work, which
perhaps can help you better figure out your own stance:

You’ll see a lot of polarization around these issues, but there are
more than two "sides" and there are a lot of us who are somewhere in
the middle of the pro- and anti- poles.

You’ll also want to suss out how much of this is about porn in the
first place. For instance, is it his looking at pornography that is
making you feel so bad, or is it that you feel bad about a partner
thinking of anyone besides you sexually (which pretty much everyone
will do at least from time to time), and pornography is simply making
that tangible and real? Is this really about his use of porn, or is it
about your own body image or sexual self-image? If he cut back on or
stopped using the porn, would that take care of this, or might you need
something else from him entirely or additionally, like a little more
affirmation than he has strong sexual feelings for you or some changes
in your sex life?

I couldn’t help but notice you said you’ve been struggling with
issues around your own body and feelings of sexual inadequacy. I’d
expect, in a sexual relationship you have chosen to stay in that it
supports you feeling good about yourself sexually and benefits your
sexuality. A partner can’t give us esteem we don’t have or radically
improve our esteem just by finding us sexy or attractive, but in a good
sexual relationship, we should feel wanted and sexy, just as we are,
without having to try too hard. If you feel like you really don’t this
far into a relationship — especially if this has been a constant — or
that the particular dynamics of this relationship or the parts of it
that are sexual have made you feel less sexy or less happy sexually,
I’d take that into consideration in terms of if this really is still a
sound relationship for you.

I know that this process of evaluating a long-term relationship you
have valued — thus, why you have probably stayed in it this long —
can feel scary, and I also know that if you haven’t set hard limits or
negotiated difficult issues, it can seem daunting.

But let’s rally your feminist self here: in a mutually beneficial
partnership of equals, advocating for yourself is not just okay, it’s
essential. If you don’t do that, and a relationship isn’t truly made of
both people’s wants and needs being in consideration and alignment, but
of one partner who just does what they want and another who merely
acquiesces, then it’s not a partnership of equals. Voicing issues like
this can’t destroy a healthy, loving relationship: it can only
strengthen it and make it a better place for both partners. If a
partner loves who we are, they want to really know who we are, even if
that may challenge them in some ways or facilitate a need to
re-negotiate something or reconsider the nature of our relationship.

Here are a few more relevant links from the site to grow on:

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.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”


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