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ICE Shuts Down Immigrant Hotline Featured on ‘OITNB’

The final season of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black highlighted the country’s current immigration detention issue and told the stories of character’s in detainment, fighting to be reunited with their children, and the real-life retaliation that detainees in detention centers undergo.

During one of the episodes of the season, OITNB’s Maritza can be seen helping other migrant detainees by sharing a hotline that helps immigrants with legal aid. The hotline, which is run by California organization Freedom for Immigrants, is real and almost exactly a month after the premiere, the hotline was shut down.

In that same episode, another OITNB character tells Martiza about the hotline, “You have to be careful, though. Apparently, if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down.”

Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “shut down the real hotline for detained immigrants run by the California group Freedom for Immigrants less than two weeks after it was prominently featured on the show.”

Freedom for Immigrants has been running the free hotline since 2013, as well as visitation programs in detention centers across the U.S. They responded to the shut down with a cease-and-desist letter stating that it’s a violation of free speech and an act of retaliation by the government.

Seven actors and producers from the show, including Diane Guerrero and Laura Gómez, along with 121 organizations including the ACLU signed a letter of support to acting ICE Director Matthew Albence, demanding that the line be restored.

“Even a freely given benefit such as the pro bono hotline can’t be taken away simply because the government is now unhappy with how we are sharing with the public what we know from our communications with people inside,” Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, told the L.A. Times.

ICE told the organization that toll-free numbers for pro bono attorneys had to be approved by the Executive Office for Immigration Review — which oversees the immigration courts — every three years. Those that no longer appear on the EOIR list will be removed from the system, the L.A. Times reports. The numbers are extensions issued by Talton Communications phone service provider since 1-800 numbers don’t work from within detention facilities (their hotline number is 209-757-FREE). Detainees must pay for calls to all other numbers and for many, having enough money to make calls — both to family and lawyers — is difficult.

The hotline was most recently only available to eight facilities in Florida after ICE restricted its national reach in October in response to a letter from the organization to ICE alleging the shutdown was retaliation, Fialho told the L.A. Times. Freedom for Immigrants is currently operating with a regular number that costs several thousands of dollar per month and requesting donations to help with the cost.

Liz del Carmen, former communications director for Freedom for Immigrants, tweeted that “it’s clearly retaliation” in response to the shutdown.

The organization’s volunteers help connect detainees to lawyers and gather documents for their case, as well as assist them in filing complaints about human rights violations and abuse.

“Immigration detention systematically isolates detained individuals from their communities,” Cynthia Galaz, the National Hotline Director for Freedom for Immigrants said in a press release. “The National Hotline allows for communication and community building between those inside and outside of detention. By blocking access to Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline, ICE furthers community disenfranchisement and prevents the public from knowing about what happens inside these facilities.”