The National Immigration Detention Hotline, a number that people detained in immigration could call for legal assistance, was shut down after being featured prominently in the recent final season of Orange Is the New Black.
In existence since 2013, the line was officially blocked on August 7, The Hollywood Reporter reports. During this current season of OITNB, inmates mention the number as part of a recurring ICE storyline; there’s a scene in which one inmate (Gloria Mendoza) warns a detainee it could be shut down. On August 22, the nonprofit Freedom for Immigrants issued a cease and desist letter to ICE, signed by producers and actors from the show, to ask that the line be restored.
Cynthia M. Galaz, the national hotline director of Freedom for Immigrants, wrote to Jezebel in an email:
We had a pro bono line that connected to a four digit number (the pro bono line), that was only accessible to people in detention. This number was a free and confidential resource for people in detention to get in touch with us and report abuses. That line was shut down and blocked from people in detention to contact us. People in and out of detention can contact us via the 209 number, but it is neither a free nor confidential number like the pro bono line was.
According to ICE, the hotline was shut down after detainees engaged in three way calls and call forwarding, which is “prohibited.” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox told The Washington Post, “The claim this has anything to do with a TV show is pure fiction. The reality is this group engaged in prohibited conduct.”
Vicci Martinez, who played “Daddy” on OITNB, issued a statement in response to the shutdown. “It’s practically impossible to do something as simple as place a phone call without money or without someone on the outside helping you, which is why Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline is so critical,” Martinez wrote in the Freedom for Immigrants letter. “We stand with Freedom for Immigrants and urge ICE to restore their hotline immediately.”