ICE Shuts Down Immigrant Detention Hotline After It Was Featured In ‘Orange Is The New Black’

Migrants hold hands as they cross the border between the U.S. and Mexico at the Rio Grande river, on their way to enter El Paso, Texas, on May 20, 2019 as taken from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Mario Tama / Getty Images

Fans of Orange Is the New Black watched as Maritza, played by Diane Guerrero, hid in a freezer and desperately dialed a hotline that would connect her with lawyers willing to work for free on behalf of immigration detainees. As she contemplated the call, her friend warned her that if “Big Brother” found out about the hotline, it would be shut down.

Now, according to the Hollywood Reporter, fiction has become reality, after the real-life immigration hotline was shut down just a few weeks after the episode aired.

“You gotta be careful, though. Apparently, as soon as Big Brother figures out you’re using the hotline, they shut it down,” Gloria Mendoza, played by Selenis Leyva, warns Maritza.

Christina Fialho, the co-founder and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, says that the move is likely related to the criticism that Trump’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been facing.

“ICE is attempting to silence its critics and block people in immigration detention from connecting with communities on the outside,” she said. “It’s disappointing but not unexpected that Trump’s ICE would engage in such cruel and undemocratic behavior.”

The hotline that was featured in the show, called the National Immigration Detention Hotline, has been around since 2013 as a resource for people seeking legal counsel. On August 7, it was shuttered, according to the group, just weeks after the July 26 release of the show.

By cutting off the hotline, ICE has made it more difficult for those who have been detained to seek and obtain the assistance that they need, according to Freedom for Immigrants’ national hotline director, Cynthia Marlene Galaz.

“The National Hotline is a crucial resource for people in immigration detention,” she said. “It is concerning that ICE’s response to criticism is to block avenues of free and safe communication.”

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Since being shuttered, the hotline’s directors have filed a cease and desist against ICE requesting that the hotline be restored. The move was supported in a letter from Orange Is the New Black actors and men and women in Congress.

“[W]e are being punished by our government,” the letter says, for being featured in the show, which brought attention to immigration.

The seventh and final season of the show focused not only on the U.S. prison system, but on the immigrant crisis that the country is facing. Familiar characters from the show found themselves in detention centers facing the threat deportation, highlighting a situation that many find themselves facing in real-life America.