Weeks after Orange Is the New Black referenced a toll-free hotline that helps immigrants in detention centers obtain legal counsel, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) allegedly shut down the number.
Freedom for Immigrants, the California organization that created the National Immigration Detention Hotline in 2013, says the number was nixed on August 7th, roughly two weeks after the premiere of the Netflix series’ seventh season. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the show features a storyline in which two characters, Blanca and Maritza, end up in deportation proceedings and other people at the detention center inform them about the hotline.
Attorney Christina Fialho, executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, called the the shutdown’s timing “deeply concerning.” “Freedom for Immigrants is being targeted for exposing abuses in detention and amplifying the stories of people suffering in the system,” she said in a statement.
Six Orange Is the New Black actors — including Diane Guerrero and Laura Gómez, who play Maritza and Blanca — and one series producer signed a letter to ICE last week expressing their frustration. They signed alongside 121 other organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“The line’s termination undermines trust and accountability of government institutions, dissuades public service by community organizations and further isolates vulnerable detained individuals,” the letter read. “We demand that Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline be restored to its original reach so that the organization can continue offering a free and confidential resource to detained individuals across the country.”
The letter was accompanied by a cease and desist notice for “blocking Freedom for Immigrants’ ICE Pro Bono telephone extension from being accessed nationwide.”
Vicci Martinez, who plays Daddy on Orange Is the New Black, added in her own statement that the show is “heartbroken to hear about the shutdown.” She continued, “It’s practically impossible to do something as simple as place a phone call without money or without someone on the outside helping you, which is why Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline is so critical. We stand with Freedom for Immigrants and urge ICE to restore their hotline immediately.”
An ICE spokesperson told NBC News that “all ICE facilities provide detainees with reasonable and equitable access to telephones” and that detainees can “make free calls to an ICE-approved list of free legal service providers for the purpose of obtaining initial legal representation.”
The official did not directly reference the Freedom for Immigration hotline but added that pro-bono organizations “may be removed from the platform” if found to be violating ICE telephone rules. The agency continued: “However, removal from this platform in no way limits the ability of an ICE detainee to phone such an organization directly should the detainee wish to do so.”