Get Real! How Long Does it Take to Become a Virgin Again?

Heather Corinna

Virginity is an intellectual concept, idea, belief, and perhaps most accurately, a word for identity some people use, usually to identify when they or others have not had certain sexual experiences

reynolds1990 asks:

I know that it takes a woman up to 7 years after having intercourse to become a virgin again. Is that true? Is it also the same for a girl between the ages of 12 and 15? If they are both true, could you please explain to me how that happens? If you could get back to me as soon as possible that would be fully appreciated.

Heather Corinna replies:

We talk about this a lot here at Scarleteen: virginity isn’t physical or anything that can be universally proven or disproven with body parts.

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It’s an intellectual concept, an idea, a belief, and perhaps most accurately, a word for identity some people use, usually to identify when they or others have not had certain sexual experiences. What those experiences are vary, because not everyone has or uses the same definition of this word. All people also don’t share the same experiences or definitions of sex, or certain physical activities which are sometimes sex, but aren’t other times, in large part because any activity which can be sex can also be rape or other kinds of abuse. Too, a definition of virginity or partnered sex based in something physical, being done to or with the body without accounting for everyone’s motives and feelings could not only be sex or rape, it could also be describing things that can be part of in sexual healthcare, bathing, grooming, itching (literally, not figuratively), childbirth, various kinds of injuries, curiosity, or masturbation.

For a very long time, there was a fairly global belief that virginity was physical, and something only applied to women’s bodies and women’s social status. The belief was that virginity was effectively about the hymen — or corona, a very thin, flexible membrane that is usually just inside the vaginal opening at birth — not being fully intact or visible, and that what happened when virginity was “lost” or “taken” was that the hymen was broken. What that belief overlooked, in large part because people didn’t know better, was that that tissue not only is not some kind of seal, it’s supposed to degrade over time — both wearing away and back, winding up with its edges surrounding the vaginal opening in some way — and will usually tend to do that with or without any kind of sex at all. (If in doubt, consider how many young women you probably know who have not had any kind of sex, but have their periods, which couldn’t flow out if the vaginal opening was sealed shut.) It also overlooked that when intercourse was and is something the person with said hymen desired, felt ready for and gave consent to, and when they had a partner who was attentive, hymens don’t tend to “get broken” at all, but instead, just wear away a little more sometimes with genital sex.

In some areas and some places people still believe the things above that we know now are not true, or don’t believe them, but choose to behave as if they still are true. But they’re not, and acting as if they are won’t make it so.

I suspect what you’re asking is if the hymen can grow back once it has worn away, in whole or in part. It can’t. As I explained, it’s supposed to wear away, and once it has, in whatever way it has at whatever pace it has, it’s not going to magically grow back. You might also be asking if there’s a certain time period where if someone doesn’t have given kind of sex if it physically might feel like their first time again, per feeling very tight or painful. Maybe, but maybe not: not everyone’s first times are painful or uncomfortable, especially when sex is wanted and something people are ready for. If after going a while without a certain kind of sex, it feels painful, that’s most likely about someone doing things in such a way that make them painful or unpleasant — like being scared, not using lubricant as needed, or rushing into intercourse — rather than because of any physical changes to their bodies.

While I suspect that may answer your question all by itself, I’d like to talk a bit more about this, and address a couple other recent questions we’ve had on this subject.

Anonymous asks:

Can I become a virgin again? I already had sex. It wasn’t terrible, I wasn’t forced into anything it was okay I guess. But my boyfriend and I broke up a while back and it wasn’t as perfect as we all want the first time to be. I want a do-over. Can I get one without pretending to be something I’m not or lying about having sex before?

Yes, you can! In fact, you can get as many do-overs as you want without pretending or lying.

I’ll be forthright about my personal feelings about virginity as a term: I don’t like it. That isn’t to say I have any issue with, or am not supportive of, people deciding to give whatever weight they do to their experiences and ideals. I also am completely supportive of anyone deciding, before, during or after, that any given sexual experience (or lack thereof), activity or scenario has a particular value to them. My issue is with the term itself, which has long been intensely sexist and associated with an awful lot of misogyny, sexual violence and other violence against women and other forms of oppression. In a word, I know too much, and what I know sucks.

While I think we can reclaim some words, potentially shifting them from an oppressive negative into a powerful positive, I’m not sure how with this one. The history around this term is just so awful, and our culture is still so sexist and uses the term for some ways of oppressing people, not to mention that it’s so vague a term it’s all but meaningless in some ways. As well, what I notice is that people who use it usually subscribe to some of the ideas or ideals affixed to the history of the term, like suggesting sex is about taking something away from someone, rather than making something new, like presenting women’s bodies as property in some way, like affixing a social status to people based on their sexual experiences or lack of them, so I’d not call that reclaiming. I would suggest folks at least consider choosing to describe what you would with that word with different words, more positive words of phrases, language that is more clear and less mired in bad stuff.

That’s my own opinion. Your own, whatever it is, is no less important or valuable. If it’s a term you want to use, and which you feel works for you, then you get to use it. But for the sake of trying to use language that isn’t steeped in big yuck, and with the aim of giving more meaning and clarity to things you want to be meaningful and clear, I want to propose some alternatives.

For instance, instead of saying “I’m a virgin,” or “I’m not a virgin,” or “I wish I could be a virgin again,” how about:
“I haven’t participated in [whatever kind of] sex yet.”
“I haven’t had vaginal intercourse before.”
“I haven’t had sex with someone I love before.”
“I haven’t engaged in sex I felt satisfied with yet.”
“I haven’t experienced sex that felt like sex to me yet.”
“I was sexually assaulted or abused: I haven’t yet had consensual sex.”
“I’ve changed a lot since I did sex in the past, so I feel like I’m starting over with it.”
“I haven’t been part of sex with a partner of [whatever gender] yet.”
“I haven’t had sex when I identified as [whatever gender, orientation or other identity] yet.
“I haven’t been part of sex yet that I’ve actually enjoyed.”
“I did have sex already, but it just wasn’t what I wanted it. I want to have sex that’s the way I envision it at its best.”
“I haven’t experienced sex in this kind of relationship before.”
“I haven’t been involved in sex since I knew what I wanted or felt able to ask for it.”
“I haven’t had sex since I really felt ready for it.”
“I have had sex before, but I wasn’t happy with it, and I feel like I’d like to restart my sex life fresh, and aim to do that.”
“I didn’t realize what sex was before and that’s what I was doing, so I feel like now that I do is when I’m really having my first times.”
Or, what you said yourself: “I already had sex. It wasn’t terrible, I wasn’t forced into anything it was okay I guess. But my boyfriend and I broke up a while back and it wasn’t as perfect as we all want the first time to be. I want a do-over.”

All of those things are okay things to say, and they are things that people talking honestly and openly about sex and their sexual history do and may say. If you think you’d be the first person in the world saying them, you’d be wrong. It also may not be the first time any sexual partner you may have heard something like that, either, and you may even run into a partner who also feels one of those ways themselves.

That said, for someone who does want to use the word virginity and not an alternative, because virginity is not physical or factual, and because its definitions are myriad, arbitrary and often personal, I don’t see any reason why any given person isn’t entitled to their own definition, too.

That’s the precedent that’s long been set, after all: whole cultures have created their definitions for their own purposes or agendas, including definitions that were knowingly false, and a whole lot of people have too, often people who weren’t even identifying themselves, but prescribing identities, statuses or values to others. So, I figure you get to decide what it means just as arbitrarily as anyone else, especially since since no matter how you use it, there is still not going to be any unilateral definition where everyone you say it to will know what you mean or won’t just assume you define it however they do.

I do think it’s important to be honest with sexual partners and to avoid any words or language that are dishonest or knowingly give false impressions. Saying or implying you haven’t had a kind of physical contact that you have can, for example, incline someone to choose to take potential health risks they wouldn’t choose to take otherwise, or to ditch safety measures they’d otherwise insist on. That’s not cool. Plus, we’re all generally most likely to have satisfying sex we feel good about when we are who we are, and represent ourselves honestly, including our life experiences. Do make sure that whatever words or phrases you choose to use, they’re honest and express what is true.

I want to talk about that perfect you think everyone wants the first time to be. Not only is everyone’s idea of perfect different, in reality, that “perfect” you have in mind probably doesn’t exist or, at the very least, is more likely to be a reality much further down the road than with a first time. You’re talking about an ideal, possibly even a fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with having those, but when we do, we have to acknowledge that’s what they are, and while our realities can sometimes resemble them, or wind up meeting the needs we have in them without being just like them, they’re still not realities, but ideals or fantasies. In reality, the first time people have any kind of sex is often a lot like the first time we do anything new: it’s really far from perfect because we haven’t had any practice at it yet and are just trying it for the first time.

I’d say that sex is one of those places and things in life where our imperfections get shown up a lot more than perfection does, and that isn’t a bad thing, but one of the best things about it. Sex can be a place where everyone can be human — sticky, sweaty, fleshy, awkward, clumsy, murky, newbie, dizzy, silly, super-quirky-human — and thus, necessarily imperfect, and enjoy and celebrate themselves; be accepted and accepting. It’s a place where we or anyone else should never have to be perfect or feel like we have to, which can be an awfully nice break from the situations in life in which we’re given a lot less freedom and latitude to be imperfect.

Ashley_Nicole asks:

I think I’m physically ready to have sex. But on the emotional side I’m fractioned…1/4 of me says no and the other 3/4’s says yes. I don’t want to have ANY regrets, what do I do?

There is also nothing we can do, in sex or any part of life, to assure we won’t have any regrets. Ever. If there was, and I knew about it, I promise I’d tell you. I just explained to someone else a couple of weeks ago that there is no perfect sexual choice, just like there’s no perfect any choice. All there ever is is the best choice we can make for yourselves with the information, insight and skills we have at a given time.

However, there are some things we can do to best avoid regret, and some things we can do to manage feelings of regret when and if we have them and use them to help us out.

One of the big things you’ve already identified is paying attention to your own feelings and instincts. That 25% of you that says it’s not right yet? Listen to that part. Give it weight and value, acknowledging it to be as deeply important as it is (which is deeply important). When sex really is right, the first time or the 501st, your heart and your head will tend to be in alignment. As much of yourself as can say go to something will be cheering for the same team. While our intuition and feelings aren’t all we need to make our own best choices, paying attention to them and not acting against them is crucial.

What else? Information. Do you feel like you’re pretty filled in on what to expect — for as much as we can be — with sex and what people tend to need to be really ready for all of it? Feel like you know what you need to to both make your choice and manage your choice? If not, you can look at something like this, or this, or this, or this to get some more information to inform your choices.

Since there’s more than just you involved in partnered sex, you can talk about your feelings and thoughts about this with the other person involved. That’s not required, and some people don’t or don’t always. But when we’re feeling uncertain, it’s a good call to talk it out with our potential partner. If this does have an emotional aspect for you — and really, all sex does for everyone to some degree, even the most casual of casual sex — then you probably want to talk about this together. Filling them in on what you think and feel, seeing how they react to what you say, and then finding out how they feel can give you information you wouldn’t otherwise have to help you (and them) make your own best choices.

Do you feel like you — and whoever the other person potentially involved is — have the skills you need to manage sex well at this time? Are you in a place in your life where sex will add the good stuff, rather than adding anxiety, stress, heartbreak or drama? Try and be as honest with yourself as you can about what you really feel able to handle right now, and if you think now’s not the right time and space to handle all that we may have to with sex, emotionally and practically — opt out until you feel more capable, and invest some time and energy in cultivating the skills you think you may need to build up more, like good communication and negotiation skills or assertiveness.

One other thing to know is just like with any other sound choice and agreement (in this case, you and someone else agreeing to have whatever kinds of sex you are in the ways you’re agreeing to have them), you should always feel you can opt out. That’s not anything exceptional: for sex to be healthy and consensual, everyone always should be able to opt out at any time, even if and when you’ve agreed and then you’re about to do whatever it is and find you suddenly feel like it just isn’t right. Having that be a constant given is a really important part of consent, which you can read up on here.

Once people have started going through puberty, most people are pretty much physically “ready” for sex per their bodies being able to function sexually. But since there are so many kinds of sex and many don’t require any one way of the body functioning, I’d say that “physical readiness” is the least important part of this that there is. If sex was only about our bodies, that’d be the only thing we’d need to consider, but it’s so not.

I hope you can see from the questions above yours and my answers to them that obviously some folks do experience regret or wish they’d made choices differently. Now, some of what’s in that probably isn’t just about how people made their choices, but about the many people conceptualize sex, sexuality and sexual experiences. Some of those conceptualizations are problematic for various reasons. For instance, when we hear from people who regret their first sexual choices, so much of the time it’s because they’re thinking they only get that one first time with sex, when in fact, we get first-times all the time, whether that’s because we have a new partner or just because we’re trying or experiencing something in a different way than we did in the past. The truth is, our sexual choices are always important, not just once. Hopefully that doesn’t make you feel more stressed out, because that’s not what I intend: I just want to make clear that we are always making these choices and they are always important, so if any one time we feel like we got it wrong, we always have more chances to get it right. As well, we always need to recognize that getting something just perfecty-perfect right the first time out is as unrealistic with sex as it is with anything else. We get better at this, all of us — having kinds of sex and making sexual choices — with practice over time.

So, what if you find that even when you do all of what I’m suggesting here — trusting your heart and your head both, having lots of information that you use in your decision-making, talking with partners honestly — you make a choice you regret in some way? Well, first of all, if you do all that, you probably won’t. Most people who voice feeling regret with these choices didn’t do those things.

But in the case you did, then you’d cut yourself a break, acknowledge you did all you could do to make your best choice, and remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes or only learns certain things through error. None of us come into this life knowing all these is to know, or done with our learning at birth: we all learn as we go, and probably don’t ever know all we could know, so we’re bound to make mistakes or missteps now and then. If you ask me, if we are kind to and thoughtful with ourselves and others, if we do our best to be as self-aware as we can, and we make sure we’re never leaping into things we know we or others don’t want or just can’t handle, then whatever mistakes we make, they’re just not going to be that bad. We’ll live, seriously, and something we think is the most horrendous mistake at a given time in life tends to soften over time, and we’ll often realize was even of value to us because of what we learned through it.

I want to leave all of you a few more links to look at, with my best wishes, and my hope that all of you, whatever your choices in the past, present or future, feel empowered to seek out what you want and think of yourself and your sex life in ways that make you feel good about yourselves.

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) 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.

Analysis Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats Employ ‘Dangerous,’ Contradictory Strategies

Ally Boguhn & Christine Grimaldi

Democrats for Life of America leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradict each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party's platform is newly committed to increasing abortion access for all.

The national organization for anti-choice Democrats last month brought a litany of arguments against abortion to the party’s convention. As a few dozen supporters gathered for an event honoring anti-choice Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), the group ran into a consistent problem.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) leaders, politicians, and rank-and-file supporters often contradicted each other, and sometimes themselves, exposing a lack of coherent strategy at a time when the Democratic Party’s platform is newly committed to increasing access to abortion care for all.

DFLA leaders and politicians attempted to distance themselves from the traditionally Republican anti-choice movement, but repeatedly invoked conservative falsehoods and medically unsupported science to make their arguments against abortion. One state-level lawmaker said she routinely sought guidance from the National Right to Life, while another claimed the Republican-allied group left anti-choice Democrats in his state to fend for themselves.

Over the course of multiple interviews, Rewire discovered that while the organization demanded that Democrats “open the big tent” for anti-choice party members in order to win political office, especially in the South, it lacked a coordinated strategy for making that happen and accomplishing its policy goals.

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Take, for example, 20-week abortion bans, which the organization’s website lists as a key legislative issue. When asked about why the group backed cutting off abortion care at that point in a pregnancy, DFLA Executive Director Kristen Day admitted that she didn’t “know what the rationale was.”

Janet Robert, the president of the group’s executive board, was considerably more forthcoming.

“Well, the group of pro-life people who came up with the 20-week ban felt that at 20 weeks, it’s pretty well established that a child can feel pain,” Robert claimed during an interview with Rewire. Pointing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to legal abortion care before the point of fetal viability, Rogers suggested that “more and more we’re seeing that children, prenatal children, are viable around 20 to 22 weeks” of pregnancy.

Medical consensus, however, has found it “unlikely” that a fetus can feel pain until the third trimester, which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. The doctors who testify otherwise in an effort to push through abortion restrictions are often discredited anti-choice activists. A 20-week fetus is “in no way shape or form” viable, according to Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

When asked about scientific findings that fetuses do not feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy, Robert steadfastly claimed that “medical scientists do not agree on that issue.”

“There is clearly disagreement, and unfortunately, science has been manipulated by a lot of people to say one thing or another,” she continued.

While Robert parroted the very same medically unsupported fetal pain and viability lines often pushed by Republicans and anti-choice activists, she seemingly acknowledged that such restrictions were a way to work around the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal.

“Now other legislatures are looking at 24 weeks—anything to get past the Supreme Court cut-off—because everybody know’s it’s a child … it’s all an arbitrary line,” she said, adding that “people use different rationales just to get around the stupid Supreme Court decision.”

Charles C. Camosy, a member of DFLA’s board, wrote in a May op-ed for the LA Times that a federal 20-week ban was “common-sense legislation.” Camosy encouraged Democratic lawmakers to help pass the abortion ban as “a carrot to get moderate Republicans on board” with paid family leave policies.

Robert also relied upon conservative talking points about fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, which routinely lie to patients to persuade them not to have an abortion. Robert said DFLA doesn’t often interact with women facing unplanned pregnancies, but the group nonetheless views such organizations as “absolutely fabulous [be]cause they help the women.”

Those who say such fake clinics provide patients with misinformation and falsehoods about abortion care are relying on “propaganda by Planned Parenthood,” Robert claimed, adding that the reproductive health-care provider simply doesn’t want patients seeking care at fake clinics and wants to take away those clinics’ funding.

Politicians echoed similar themes at DFLA’s convention event. Edwards’ award acceptance speech revealed his approach to governing, which, to date, includes support for restrictive abortion laws that disproportionately hurt people with low incomes, even as he has expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.

Also present at the event was Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson (D), responsible for a restrictive admitting privileges law that former Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed into law in 2014. Jackson readily admitted to Rewire that she takes her legislative cues from the National Right to Life. She also name-checked Dorinda Bordlee, senior counsel of the Bioethics Defense Fund, an allied organization of the Alliance Defending Freedom.

“They don’t just draft bills for me,” Jackson told Rewire in an interview. “What we do is sit down and talk before every session and see what the pressing issues are in the area of supporting life.”

Despite what Jackson described as a commitment to the constitutionality of her laws, the Supreme Court in March blocked admitting privileges from taking effect in Louisiana. Louisiana’s law is also nearly identical to the Texas version that the Court struck down in June’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

Jackson did not acknowledge the setback, speaking instead about how such measures protect the health of pregnant people and fetuses. She did not mention any legal strategy—only that she’s “very prayerful” that admitting privileges will remain law in her state.

Jackson said her “rewarding” work with National Right to Life encompasses issues beyond abortion care—in her words, “how you’re going to care for the baby from the time you choose life.”

She claimed she’s not the only Democrat to seek out the group’s guidance.

“I have a lot of Democratic colleagues in my state, in other states, who work closely with [National] Right to Life,” Jackson said. “I think the common misconception is, you see a lot of party leaders saying they’re pro-abortion, pro-choice, and you just generally assume that a lot of the state legislators are. And that’s not true. An overwhelming majority of the Democrat state legislators in our state and others are pro-life. But, we say it like this: We care about them from the womb to the tomb.”

The relationship between anti-choice Democrats and anti-choice groups couldn’t be more different in South Dakota, said state house Rep. Ray Ring (D), a Hillary Clinton supporter at DFLA’s convention event.

Ring said South Dakota is home to a “small, not terribly active” chapter of DFLA. The “very Republican, very conservative” South Dakota Right to Life drives most of the state’s anti-choice activity and doesn’t collaborate with anti-choice Democrats in the legislature, regardless of their voting records on abortion.

Democrats hold a dozen of the 70 seats in South Dakota’s house and eight of the 35 in the state senate. Five of the Democratic legislators had a mixed record on choice and ten had a pro-choice record in the most recent legislative session, according to NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota Executive Director Samantha Spawn.

As a result, Ring and other anti-choice Democrats devote more of their legislative efforts toward policies such as Medicaid expansion, which they believe will reduce the number of pregnant people who seek abortion care. Ring acknowledged that restrictions on the procedure, such as a 20-week ban, “at best, make a very marginal difference”—a far cry not only from Republicans’ anti-choice playbook, but also DFLA’s position.

Ring and other anti-choice Democrats nevertheless tend to vote for Republican-sponsored abortion restrictions, falling in line with DFLA’s best practices. The group’s report, which it released at the event, implied that Democratic losses since 2008 are somehow tied to their party’s support for abortion rights, even though the turnover in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including gerrymandering to favor GOP victories.

Anecdotal evidence provides measured support for the inference.

Republican-leaning anti-choice groups targeted one of their own—Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC)—in her June primary for merely expressing concern that a congressional 20-week abortion ban would have required rape victims to formally report their assaults to the police in order to receive exemptions. Ellmers eventually voted last year for the U.S. House of Representatives’ “disgustingly cruel” ban, similarly onerous rape and incest exceptions included.

If anti-choice groups could prevail against such a consistent opponent of abortion rights, they could easily do the same against even vocal “Democrats for Life.”

Former Rep. Kathy Dalhkemper (D-PA) contends that’s what happened to her and other anti-choice Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in Republicans wresting control of the House.

“I believe that pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republicans, and that’s why we were targeted—and I’ll say harshly targeted—in 2010,” Dahlkemper said in an interview.

She alleged that anti-choice groups, often funded by Republicans, attacked her for supporting the Affordable Care Act. A 2010 Politico story describes how the Susan B. Anthony List funneled millions of dollars into equating the vote with support for abortion access, even though President Obama signed an executive order in the vein of the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on federal funds for abortion care.

Dalhkemper advocated for perhaps the clearest strategy to counter the narrative that anti-choice Democrats somehow aren’t really opposed to abortion.

“What we need is support from our party at large, and we also need to band together, and we also need to continue to talk about that consistent life message that I think the vast majority of us believe in,” she said.

Self-described pro-choice Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Stacey Abrams (D) rejected the narratives spun by DFLA to supporters. In an interview with Rewire at the convention, Abrams called the organization’s claim that Democrats should work to elect anti-choice politicians from within their ranks in order to win in places like the South a “dangerous” strategy that assumes “that the South is the same static place it was 50 or 100 years ago.”

“I think what they’re reacting to is … a very strong religious current that runs throughout the South,” that pushes people to discuss their values when it comes to abortion, Abrams said. “But we are capable of complexity. And that’s the problem I have. [Its strategy] assumes and reduces Democrats to a single issue, but more importantly, it reduces the decision to one that is a binary decision—yes or no.”

That strategy also doesn’t take into account the intersectional identities of Southern voters and instead only focuses on appealing to the sensibilities of white men, noted Abrams.

“We are only successful when we acknowledge that I can be a Black woman who may be raised religiously pro-life but believe that other women have the right to make a choice,” she continued. “And the extent to which we think about ourselves only in terms of white men and trying to convince that very and increasingly narrow population to be our saviors in elections, that’s when we face the likelihood of being obsolete.”

Understanding that nuances exist among Southern voters—even those who are opposed to abortion personally—is instead the key to reaching them, Abrams said.

“Most of the women and most of the voters, we are used to having complex conversations about what happens,” she said. “And I do believe that it is both reductive and it’s self-defeating for us to say that you can only win if you’re a pro-life Democrat.”

To Abrams, being pro-choice means allowing people to “decide their path.”

“The use of reproductive choice is endemic to how we as women can be involved in society: how we can go to work, how we can raise families, make choices about who we are. And so while I am sympathetic to the concern that you have to … cut against the national narrative, being pro-choice means exactly that,” Abrams continued. “If their path is pro-life, fine. If their path is to decide to make other choices, to have an abortion, they can do so.”

“I’m a pro-choice woman who has strongly embraced the conversation and the option for women to choose whatever they want to choose,” Abrams said. “That is the best and, I think, most profound path we can take as legislators and as elected officials.”

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