Immigrant Rights Group Demands ICE Restore Detention Hotline Featured in 'OITNB'

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK -Season 7 - Netflix Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Netflix

Season seven of Netflix's 'Orange Is the New Black.'

A national hotline for detained immigrants was shut down two weeks after it was spotlighted in the final season of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black. Now, the group behind the hotline is demanding that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) restore the resource.

Freedom for Immigrants, along with their co-founder/executive director Christina Fialho, on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit to reinstate its National Immigration Detention Hotline, which was name-checked on OITNB when the seventh season, which was released on July 26, tackled the national immigration crisis. The hotline has been a free and confidential resource offering legal assistance to people who are in immigration detention since 2013 and was shut down Aug. 7, according to the group, echoing a widely covered final-season plotline from Jenji Kohan's Emmy-winning prison dramedy.

The complaint filed by the California nonprofit states that ICE shut down the hotline in retaliation for the exercising of First Amendment rights advocating on behalf of persons in immigration detention. Tuesday's lawsuit follows a cease and desist letter that was sent to ICE after the hotline was shut down in August, which was accompanied by a letter of support signed by members of Congress and producers and actors from OITNB in partnership with 121 organizations. (At the time, ICE said the group engaged in prohibited conduct: "Because these legal calls are unmonitored and unrecorded, certain prohibited activities, to include three-way calling and call forwarding, are strictly prohibited.")

"When operational, our free and confidential hotline received up to 14,000 calls per month from people in immigration detention who were isolated and suffering serious abuses," Fialho now says in a statement. "ICE shut down our hotline because we drew attention to the inhumanity of immigration detention. It is only the latest in a long pattern of retaliation against Freedom for Immigrants. Today, we have said no more."

Freedom for Immigrants has retained pro bono attorneys Moez M. Kaba, Rajan Trehan and Ashley Artmann of Hueston Hennigan LLP. Kaba, a partner at Hueston Hennigan, adds, "We filed this lawsuit on behalf of [Freedom for Immigrants] in order to protect these core First Amendment rights, and to reinstate an important lifeline for persons held in immigrant detention."

Several OITNB co-stars shared the news of the lawsuit on their social media on Tuesday, including immigration reform activists Vicci Martinez and Laura Gómez, the latter whose character was detained in an immigration center on the final season. Her character witnessed a fellow inmate, played by Diane Guerrero, get deported after attempting to share the hotline number with fellow detainees. Freedom for Immigrants and Fialho "are suing ICE. They worked with @oitnb to provide an accurate portrayal of life inside #immigration detention and the show featured their national hotline on season 7. Then ICE shut down their hotline. They’re demanding the free hotline get reinstated. Please visit their page and consider making a donation," shared Gómez.

Fialho, who is also an attorney, added on Instagram, "Today this retaliation ends. We want our free hotline reinstated."

Freedom for Immigrants, which is devoted to abolishing immigration detention, is one of eight nonprofits featured in The Poussey Washington Fund, the criminal justice reform fund that launched in conjunction with the final season of OITNB. The fund has so far raised more than $340,000.

Read the complaint here.