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The National Immigration Detention Hotline, which was name-checked on OITNB, had been a free and confidential resource offering legal assistance to people in immigration detention since 2013. The hotline was shut down Aug. 7, according to the group, echoing a plotline from the seventh and final season of Jenji Kohan’s Emmy-winning prison dramedy that released on the streaming giant weeks prior.
In December, Freedom for Immigrants, the nonprofit behind the hotline that is devoted to abolishing immigration detention, filed a federal lawsuit demanding that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reinstate the resource.
On Tuesday, the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted Freedom for Immigrants its application for a preliminary injunction and ordered ICE to restore the hotline. Judge André Birotte Jr. found that Freedom for Immigrants “has shown that its speech was a substantial and motivating factor behind DHS’ shutdown of the hotline,” and ordered that DHS stop “further interference with the operation of the free and confidential” hotline and restore the resource at “all detention facilities operated, controlled and/or overseen” by ICE.
“For too long, ICE has censored our speech and invented imaginary rules to terminate our programs. Today, the court saw through this farce and restored our national hotline,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, in a statement. “This case should remind us all that the Trump administration is not a law unto itself, but rather accountable to the people and our Constitution.”
Cynthia Galaz, the director of the hotline, added, “We are overjoyed by this ruling and eager for ICE to comply with the order and restore our hotline. As ICE has indicated, it intends to destroy complaints from detained people about abuses and medical neglect — we will continue to use the hotline to record abuses and elevate the stories that this system is trying to silence. We look forward to answering calls from people in detention once again.”
In 2019, Freedom for Immigrants was one of eight nonprofits that partnered with OITNB for the final season. The group consulted with the writing team in order to accurately portray life inside an immigration detention center, which provided for several key stories throughout the final season. One storyline centered on two main characters name-checking the hotline; when ICE discovers that one inmate is passing the number around, they deport the character and shut down the hotline.
The storyline was the center of many headlines following the season seven release. After first restricting the national hotline to only certain facilities in Florida, ICE completely shut down the number within two weeks of the premiere. “Because these legal calls are unmonitored and unrecorded, certain prohibited activities, to include three-way calling and call forwarding, are strictly prohibited,” a spokesperson for ICE told The Hollywood Reporter at the time of the shutdown.
Freedom for Immigrants accused ICE of violating First Amendment rights and on Tuesday, the group’s attorney, Moez M. Kaba, a partner at Hueston Hennigan, praised the court for affirming the group’s “First Amendment and Constitutional rights to be free from retaliation.”
The National Immigration Detention hotline is the nation’s largest immigration detention hotline and is staffed by a team of multilingual advocates across the country. Prior to the shutdown, the nonprofit received over 10,000 calls per month from people in immigrant prisons and jails nationwide. Most calls came from people originally from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, India and the Dominican Republic. The hotline allows people in immigration detention to report abuse, find resources and bridge the divide between detained persons and their family and loved ones, according to the nonprofit.
In conjunction with the final season, OITNB and the eight consulting nonprofits partnered on a criminal justice reform fund called The Poussey Washington Fund, which takes its name from the character formerly played by Samira Wiley. The initiative, which focuses on protecting immigrant rights, ending mass incarceration and supporting women who are affected by the prison industrial complex, has so far raised more than $350,000.
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