Immigration Detention Hotline Shut Down After Netflix Prison Drama Causes Chaos

Laura Gómez, Taylor Schilling, and Shawna Hamic in Orange Is the New Black (2013)
JoJo Whilden / Netflix

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has shut down a national hotline used by detained immigrants after it was featured in a storyline in the Netflix prison drama Orange is the New Black.

The National Immigration Detention Hotline, which was created in 2013 and was shut down on August 7, was a free and confidential resource that offered legal assistance to detained immigrants and connected them to advocates at Freedom for Immigrants.

In the fifth episode of the last season of Orange Is the New Black, a character named Maritza is made aware of a toll-free hotline that she can use to obtain a free lawyer. Another character in the show, Gloria, warns her before she makes the call.

“You have to be careful, though,” Gloria told Maritza. “Apparently if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down.”

According to advocates, that is exactly what happened two weeks after the episode aired.

Freedom for Immigrants, which operated the hotline and visitation programs in multiple detention centers, sent a cease-and-desist letter to ICE claiming it shut down the hotline in retaliation and violated their free speech rights.

Shawn Neudauer, a spokesperson for ICE, said the removal of this hotline does not prevent an ICE detainee from making direct phone calls to organizations.

“Pro bono organizations found to be violating [ICE] rules may be removed from the platform,” Neudauer stated. “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.”

Neudauer also added that detainees could make free phone calls to ICE-approved legal service providers “for the purpose of obtaining initial legal representation.”

Three Orange is the New Black actors, including Emily Tarver, Diane Guerrero, and Laura Gómez have signed a letter sent to ICE and demanded the restoration of the hotline.

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