Immigration and Customs Enforcement shut down a hotline for detained immigrants less than two weeks after it was featured in an episode of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.
In the July 26 episode, a character who was facing deportation in an immigrant detention center celebrates after learning of a toll-free hotline that connects migrants to pro bono lawyers. Another character, however, warns her, “You have to be careful, though. Apparently if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, advocates say that’s exactly what happened, as ICE shut down a hotline run by the California group Freedom for Immigrants. The group responded to the news on Thursday with a cease-and-desist letter, calling the move a violation of free speech. They also accused the agency of retaliation for criticism.
“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,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants.
While ICE did not respond to requests for comment from multiple media outlets, the agency told the group that toll-free numbers for pro bono attorneys and organizations must be approved by the Executive Office for Immigration Review every three years, adding that those not approved will be removed from the system.
In response to the shutdown, six Orange Is the New Black actors and over 100 organizations signed a letter asking acting ICE Director Matthew Albence to restore the hotline.
“Now we see life mimic art in the most destructive way,” Laura Gomez, who plays Blanca on the show, said. “I wish this were more of a fictional situation and we were exaggerating reality, but it’s kind of the other way around.”