A hotline to help detained immigrants seek legal counsel was allegedly shut down by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement less than two weeks after it was referenced on “Orange Is the New Black.”
The California-based Freedom for Immigrants nonprofit hotline was shut down on Aug. 7, according to a statement released by the group that operates the service. Since 2013, the toll-free hotline has been available to immigrants who are held in the United States’ immigration detention facilities. American prisoners have a right to a lawyer and a free phone call but detained immigrants do not have the same privileges, though they can make a free call to an ICE-approved list of legal services.
“Orange Is the New Black” dramatized how that situation impacts detainees in the recently released Season 7. Freedom for Immigrants was name-dropped in the series when Maritza Ramos (Diane Guerrero) called the hotline to find legal aid for her immigration hearing.
As the toll-free hotline was designed to help immigrants in detention centers, it’s unclear if its appearance on “Orange is the New Black” resulted in a significant uptick in usage. That said, the hotline’s signal boost on the Netflix series may have brought it to ICE’s attention.
An ICE spokesperson did not return a request for comment. Although the agency did not specifically mention Freedom for Immigrants or its appearance on “Orange is the New Black,” ICE sent a statement to NBC News stating that, “pro bono organizations found to be violating their telephone rules ‘may be removed from the platform.’” The ICE statement also noted that three-way calling and call forwarding are prohibited, but did not say whether Freedom for Immigrants violated those rules.
The agency’s shutdown of the hotline sparked outrage from immigrant rights organizations and the “Orange Is the New Black” cast and crew. Musician and “Orange Is the New Black” actor Vicci Martinez, who portrayed Dominga “Daddy” Duarte on the show, was among seven producers and cast members who signed a Freedom for Immigrants letter demanding that ICE restore the service.
“We are heartbroken to hear about the shutdown of this hotline,” Martinez said in the statement. “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.”
Freedom for Immigrants also sent a cease and desist letter to ICE for blocking the hotline.
Though ICE, which was formed in 2003, has been a source of controversy for years, anger over the American immigration system has increased since President Donald Trump took office. In January, NBC News reported that 22 immigrants had died while in ICE custody since Trump became president. The death toll of immigrants detained under President Barack Obama’s administration varied, from 5 in 2012 to 12 in 2016. The all-time high for immigrant deaths in ICE custody was 32 in 2004.
More recently, the Trump administration said it would refuse to provide flu vaccines to migrant families at border detention camps. CNBC reported that at least three children being held in detention centers have died, in part from the flu, in the last few months.