ICE Shuts Down an L.A. Organization’s Hotline for Immigrants After ‘OITNB’ Plug

The government has pulled the plug on Freedom for Immigrants’ help line for detainees

A hotline for detained immigrants run by the California nonprofit Freedom for Immigrants was shut down by ICE less than two weeks after it was featured on the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The number for the volunteer-run hotline, which helped people in immigrant prisons and jails report abuse, connect with their families, and obtain legal resources, was passed around an immigration facility where two main characters are being held the most recent season of the show. At one point, a character named Gloria offers the character Maritza a prescient warning: “You have to be careful…Apparently if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down.”

ICE told Freedom for Immigrants that the hotline was shut down because toll-free numbers must be approved by the Executive Office for Immigration Review. On Thursday, the nonprofit responded with a cease-and-desist letter claiming that the shutdown had violated their free speech rights, and was intended to punish them for being critical of ICE.

“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.

In late July, Orange Is the New Black—which extensively addresses conditions in detention centers in its latest season—launched the Poussey Washington Fund, a campaign aimed at helping women re-enter society from prison, ending mass incarceration, and protecting immigrants’ rights. A portion of the finds collected will support Freedom for Immigrants.

Actress Laura Gomez, whose character Blanca is transferred to a detention center at the end of season six, told the Times that she was heartbroken about the hotline’s shutdown. “Now we see life mimic art in the most destructive way,” she said. “I wish this were more of a fictional situation and we were exaggerating reality, but it’s kind of the other way around.”

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