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‘OITNB’ Promotes Free Immigration Hotline that Connects Detainees with Legal Aid

The final season of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black features characters Maritza and Blanca in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers who are given a number for a real-life immigration rights organization called Freedom for Immigrants. The OITNB showrunners intentionally included these storylines to shine a light on the current immigration crisis.

“You gotta be careful though. Apparently, as soon as Big Brother figures out you’re using the hotline, they shut it down,” Gloria tells Maritza in one of the episodes . and it’s a statement that reflects what happens often in real life.

Freedom for Immigrants created the hotline out of a need for immigrants to get resources and legal aid when they otherwise can’t. It’s also the nation’s largest immigration detention hotline and it comes at no cost to immigrants using it.

In a tweet earlier this week, Diane Guerrero, who portrays Maritza, raised awareness about the organization’s efforts and about the importance of the real-life immigration hotline.

Attorney Christina Fialho and cultural anthropologist Christina Mansfield founded California’s first visitation program at the West County Detention Facility in 2010 and afterward, the organization grew to include other facilities. They then joined forces with four other similar programs and rebranded as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a non-partisan, non-profit organization that is now known as Freedom for Immigrants.

Fialho and Mansfield wrote an essay on their organization for Instyle explaining that since 2015 they’ve run a national hotline connecting people in immigrant jails with resources, volunteers, and legal aid. They added that there have been times when they received more than 14,000 calls per month from immigrants from 148 different countries speaking 80 different languages.

The free hotline allows immigrants in detention centers to connect with the outside world when they’re otherwise completely isolated. It allows them a call which some can’t afford to pay because it can cost 10 to 25 cents per minute.

Just like Maritza and Blanca, ICE detainees have a hard time contacting people for help but it goes beyond just finances, as the series illustrated when Maritza started sharing the hotline number and (spoiler alert) was soon deported once the guards caught her.

Martiza’s situation is not unique and Guerrero’s own life story – her parents were deported to Colombia when she was 14– was also influential in her character’s development. Her passion for advocating for immigrants drives her to support toward organizations like these.

This country is made up of immigrants, and the immigrant story isn’t foreign to anybody… that’s the point of sharing my story, that we can all find a common thread in order to be motivated to make a change, whether it’s by voting, helping immigrant families, joining organizations that support immigrant-right activists, and continuing to represent the immigrant community in the way that they deserve, as hard-working people, as people who make this country better,” Guerrero told PopSugar.

In 2018, ICE blocked access to the Freedom for Immigrants number in their facilities after volunteers for the program refused to sign away their rights to speak to the media about conditions inside the centers, according to the founders.

Getting Trump out is not enough. We need to repeal these laws that have made it very difficult for this immigration system to function,” Guerrero told People. “People have to get political, people have to get involved and people have to educate themselves.”

The organization is fighting to restore their hotline though they are still able to offer free phone calls to people in detention through donations. With OITNB and Guerrero raising awareness about their efforts, Freedom for Immigrants can hopefully once again aid detainees especially when help and compassion are scarce in the environment they’re forced into.