Get Real! How Can I Trust Her if I Can’t See What She’s Doing?

Heather Corinna

Trust isn't about checking in on someone constantly or always being around so you can see and know what they're doing. Trust is is a firm reliance on a person's integrity, ability, or character.

jeff asks:

How do I find out if my girlfriend’s flirting and talking about other guys? She says she doesn’t, she’s begging me to trust her but how can I if we are in a long-distance relationship?

Heather Corinna replies:

Long story short? You already asked her. She says she doesn’t. You either believe her or you don’t. She also seems to be expressing frustration that you’re not extending trust to her and believing what she tells you. We can trust someone whether they’re right next to us or far, far away. Trust isn’t about checking in on someone constantly or always being around so you can see and know what they’re doing. Instead, when there is trust, we don’t feel a need to do that. It’s a lack of trust which makes that feel necessary.

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Here’s the much-longer answer.

For sure, we’ll often want to know what people we’re in a relationship with are doing because we’re interested in their lives or because we want to know when they’ll be home from an outing so we don’t worry something bad has happened to them. That’s all fine and good, and not about trust. That’s just about liking someone and caring about them. Wanting to know those things isn’t the same as needing to know those things or exactly what they’re doing, with whom, or every single thing they are thinking to trust them.

A lot of people don’t totally get to understand what trust is or what it’s all about, so I want to share a few paragraphs from another article here with you to make it clear:

Trust is is a firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing; to have or place confidence in, to believe. Trust between people is something to be extended and built, not something to be proved. We can’t demand someone else trusts us: we can only prove ourselves to be trustworthy, extend trust ourselves and give that person the choice to place trust in us if they want to, understanding that for healthy people, that often takes time.

When we trust each other, we believe what each of us says we feel and do. We feel our private and personal information and lives are in safe keeping with another person, that that person won’t betray us or our confidences. We have faith in each of us doing our best to keep and honor our agreements. We feel we can depend on one another, and feel confident that we and a partner are people of integrity and good character. When we trust each other, we allow one another freedoms and accept that not only can we not know what someone else is doing 24/7, but that we shouldn’t need to know that if we trust someone.

Some people will say they trust a given person or people completely right from the start. What they usually mean when they say that is that they don’t have limits or boundaries, that they’re engaging in some kind of denial or are just not taking care of themselves. Trust is built gradually, just like the whole of a relationship. What’s healthy with trust is to each be extending little bits of it at a time, such as by sharing personal information, making smaller agreements, and then expanding that trust more and more as we show each other that we are can both trust and be trusted.

I’m going to assume, based on how you’re talking, that you two have made an agreement to be romantically and/or sexually exclusive with each other. However, because the agreements people have and make about exclusivity (for those who do) are so different, I can’t make any assumptions about what those agreements entail. All of our relationships vary, all of our wants and needs vary, so all of our agreements in relationships will tend to vary. But we can talk about what I think is healthy and isn’t with agreements and expectations, and I can tell you what I think is generally reasonable and unreasonable.

People talk about people. We talk about friends, about family, about strangers, about celebrities, about acquaintances; we talk about people we find attractive in any number of ways or people we find unattractive in any number of ways. Very, very few people will only ever have romantic or sexual interest in one person alone, not over a lifetime, and often not even when they are in existing romantic or sexual relationships. People who are earnestly single-mindedly and completely focused on only one person who they find attractive to the complete exclusion of every other person on earth also don’t tend to be psychologically or interpersonally healthy people.

Most people who choose to be sexually and/or romantically exclusive with someone don’t choose that because that is the only person in the whole world they find of sexual or romantic interest, but instead because that is a person they have the highest levels of those interest in, who shares those feelings for them and who wants the same kind of relationship that they do. If people were only monogamous because they had no other interests or options, then monogamy wouldn’t be meaningful, just like when women don’t have the right to reproductive choice, a woman choosing to give birth and parent is only so meaningful. It’s the ability to choose, and having choices to choose from, that makes any one choice have weight and meaning.

Human beings are curious critters. We wonder, we daydream, we ruminate, we question. We think about things: things we want, things we don’t want, things we might or might not want, but we don’t really know. And sometimes we talk about it. So, she might talk about other guys at some point. But I’d encourage you to also recognize that even if she is, that doesn’t mean she’s being disloyal to you or that she intends to break any agreements with you per seeing other guys. It may just mean that, just like the rest of us, probably including you, she thinks and wonders about people and sometimes thinks and wonders out loud with words to other people.

I want to also point out that because someone is sexually oriented in such a way that they may be attracted to a given sex or gender (like to guys) doesn’t mean every thought or interaction they have with people of that sex or gender is or must be sexual or romantic. Lots of people are platonic friends with people who are members of a group they might find attractive romantically or sexually. So, if she’s talking about guys, some of the guys she’s talking about might be her male friends, people she wants to keep as friends.

Flirting is trickier to address, because people define and enact flirting very differently, and with a variety of motivations. As well, one person may not be flirting or be intending to flirt, while someone else might think they were. Some people are just “flirty” — are very physical, a little sexual, or just very open and warm — with other people by their nature, because that’s just the timbre of a lot of the way they socialize or express themselves. All the same, what flirting is by dictionary definition is to behave amorously without serious intent, and to to show superficial or casual interest.

Flirting isn’t always about pursuing anything or taking any kind of sexual or romantic action. When someone is doing it, it’s usually just a way of expressing that person may have fleeting sexual or romantic feelings, NOT any kind of promise to put those feelings into action or even a desire or intent to ever do so. Flirting doesn’t have to lead to anything that would be beyond whatever agreements we have made together, such as an agreement to only be sexual with each other, or to only pursue any sexual or romantic relationships with other people within certain agreed-upon boundaries and protocols. Flirting often doesn’t lead to anything else for a whole lot of people.

Some people who have sexual and romantic exclusivity agreements with a partner don’t have an issue with a partner flirting, because they know that flirting isn’t having sex with someone else or having a romantic relationship with or any kind of serious interest in someone else. It’s just casually expressing a momentary feeling. Being comfortable with that, though, can also be something that takes some time, some personal growth and maturity and certainly some trust. Not feeling threatened by flirting can be something that’s tougher for younger people to do than for older people, who have had more time to become secure in themselves and others.

Like I said about talking about guys, when we trust our partners and when we also feel secure in ourselves we’ll accept they may be attracted to other people, as most people are, but we also will feel pretty okay about that because we believe they want to and will honor the agreements they have made with us. It’s faith and trust that leads us to make those kinds of agreements and believe the person we’ve made them with will honor them, not the ability to keep an eye on every single thing they are doing every single day. If we didn’t think they’d honor agreements, we wouldn’t asked them to make them, right?

I don’t know what agreements you and your girlfriend have made around flirting or other parts of your relationship. Have you talked about what flirting IS for each of you and come to a definition you both agree on? have you made sure any exclusivity agreements you’ve made together are healthy, sound and fair? For instance, it’s generally considered healthy to agree that a partner will not have sex with someone else outside a relationship, not do anything expressly sexual or romantic with someone else. It’s generally considered unhealthy to make agreements that a partner won’t speak to a given person or group of people, won’t talk about people in any given way, or won’t be affectionate with people they are close to. Obviously, there can be some fine lines there, but to give you an example, many people are physically affectionate with their close friends. So, asking someone not to hug or platonically snuggle a male close friend wouldn’t be so cool, but asking them not to give that friend a lap dance or kiss them the way they kiss you would be fair.

One of the fine lines with all this is making sure the agreements you’re making are about things that help you be close to each other, not about trying to police or control anyone. It’s also sound to be sure we’re making agreements from a place of security within ourselves, not from a place of insecurity where we’re asking partners to enable us in avoiding challenges so we don’t have to grow.

I understand that some people, when dating, prefer from even the most casual date to agree to make exclusivity agreements right from the start, but that’s not what I’d advise. Certainly, people can choose to date others who are clear they’re not dating other people, but that’s not quite the same as an express agreement to be exclusive. Any time we make agreements with someone, if we want them to be sound and appropriate, we have to walk in with some measure of trust. If we don’t have any or enough trust yet to feel confident we and others will honor agreements, then in my book it’s usually too early to make them. Let me give you a couple examples outside the realm of romantic or sexual relationships, in case that’s obtuse.

When most of us were little, our parents or guardians got babysitters for us. The agreement with them, of course, was that they agreed to take very good care of us, in exchange for payment or as a personal favor. If they asked someone to care for us, since we were vulnerable, valuable and in need of care, they likely asked someone they knew they could trust to honor that agreement. Maybe they knew that person was trustworthy because he or she babysat for friends of theirs, and the friends had good things to say; maybe they called for a reference for that person. Maybe they already knew that person, over time, and had a clear sense they could be trusted. What our parents probably did not do as just find someone to do that off the street who they had never met or barely knew, because they could not have had any idea if that person would have honored that agreement.

To give another example, I trust the people who volunteer here at this site. I don’t accept volunteers here who I haven’t already observed in some way and felt are capable and trustworthy or who I know are from references. I will also gradually build trust over time, not giving a new volunteer the ability to have full access to and control of every part of the site, because I need to find out first if that’s sound. If and when I am giving them a lot of responsibility, and access to anything in which the site could be vulnerable, it’s because I know I can trust them and we have built trust together. In other words, I accept volunteers I feel I can extend some trust to right from the start, but then as that trust is gradually built and increased over time, I gradually increase what I’m trusting them with.

With exclusivity agreements, not only do you need to be sure they’re reasonable, you need to be sure you have the level of trust you need to make them in the first place. If you don’t yet, but still want to make the agreement, then you need to at least extend faith. Faith is different than trust: it’s about believing something without proof. In this case, maybe you can’t know or verify a girlfriend isn’t doing a thing, but you have faith in her that she won’t. Same goes for calling someone a boyfriend or a girlfriend, if those are meaningful terms to you, rather than words you use to describe anyone you’re dating, seriously or casually. Until you have been able to build some trust or have some faith, and have some clear sense that your heart will be safe in that, you don’t want to leap to that.

It’s also wise to check in with yourself to be sure you’re in the right headspace for a relationship at a given time, or for one where you’re making exclusivity or other agreements. Sometimes people want someone they are dating not to do the things you’re worried about because they feel very insecure about themselves. Sometimes people want those things out of a need to control someone else. Sometimes people feel so vulnerable for any given reason — maybe they have had their trust betrayed before — that they don’t feel safe dating or entering intimate relationships without a whole lot of protections.

I don’t know you, and your post gave me little to no information, so I can’t know what your motivations or feelings are here. But I do know that any motives like that, should you have them, suggest that you getting serious about someone right now might not be what’s best for you with where you’re at. If and when someone is feeling deeply insecure, strongly vulnerable or easily hurt, and/or feels a need to control, the best bet is usually to invest the kind of energy you’d put into an intimate relationship into yourself, and doing work on feeling better about yourself first.

Long-distance relationships also require both a bit more trust and faith than in-person relationships. So, it may be that the issue is that a long-distance relationships isn’t the right thing for you right now, or with this person, or it’s too soon for this relationship to have that kind of distance. If this is an online relationship, it may be non-optional that it’s long-distance. If that’s the case, but you can’t handle the distance or can’t build trust this way, then this may be someone best as a friend, not as a girlfriend.

Let’s go back to the basics of trust from the top. We can’t beg someone to trust us, or try and push someone to trust us before they actually have started to or before we have built that trust. We also need to have some basis on which to build trust, even if that basis is as simple as the fact that you like that person enough to want to be intimately involved with them, which, in a healthy relationship, does tend to suggest you think that person has some integrity. I have no idea how long you two have been together, so again, there’s a lot I don’t know. If this is a very new relationship, then it’s obviously not the same situation as it would be if you two have been together for a while. If you have been together a while, have made agreements with her, and/or are continually asking her about what she’s doing without believing her, it’s understandable she’s frustrated. If you are brand-new to each other, though, she can only reasonably expect so much trust, even though it is reasonable for her to expect you will believe her when you ask these things and won’t hound her about them.

You get to have what needs you do, including what your needs are in protecting your own heart. If you don’t feel you can build trust with someone at this distance, that’s okay, and the other person needs to honor and accept that. But you still have to be forthright about that with her and only ask things that are healthy and fair. If what you’re asking really isn’t fair or reasonable — or even possible — then you need to stop asking and figure out if you can handle this relationship and this model of relationship without doing that. If what you’re asking is reasonable, but you still don’t feel secure, you can either talk about this together and come up with some healthy, creative solutions (like maybe seeing each other more often, or like her more vocally expressing how she feels about you so you can have more confidence in those feelings) or again, figure that this just isn’t the right relationship or situation for you right now and part ways.

Long story short again? Asking her not to think or talk about a whole gender isn’t reasonable or healthy. Asking her not to flirt may or may not be okay, depending on what exactly you’re asking, but it can be problematic. Saying you can’t trust her because you can’t listen in to all her conversations or watch her with others not only isn’t true, because that’s not what trust is, that would probably be about insecurity and/or control, not about love or trust. Saying you can’t trust her because of being long-distance may be true for you, but if it is, this isn’t the right relationship for you right now. So, you’ve got to think through all of this, sort it out in your own head, figure out what you need, can handle and is best for you, then make some choices.

I’m going to leave you with some extra links that might be of help in that process, but I also want to leave you with a clear message that it’s okay if you’re just not ready for a serious relationship right now, or this relationship, for whatever reason. All of us will have times in our lives when we’re just not, or when we might really, really be into someone, or into the idea of being in a relationship, but the timing just isn’t right for where we or the other person are at. That’s okay, even if we might worry that we might not have the opportunity again to be with someone we like, or anyone we like, in a romantic relationship. Chances are, we’ll have more than one chance at that with more than one person, or even the same person, and we’re much more likely to have a healthy and mutually-awesome relationship when the timing and situation is really right for us.

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.

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”


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