History of the national detention hotline

Phone calls in immigration detention are expensive. A 15-minute phone call can cost as much as $17 because they are placed through independent telephone companies that pay the immigration detention facility a “commission”—essentially a kickback—that ranges from 15 to 60 percent either as a portion of revenue, a fixed upfront fee, or a combination of both.

This means that placing a private phone call is often impossible for asylum seekers and other immigrants in detention who do not have access to financial resources.

In response, Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC) has fought for reduced phone rates nationally by advocating with the Federal Communications Commission to cap interstate prison phone rates, by filing an amicus brief in Global Tel*Link v. Federal Communications Commission to defend a cap rate on intrastate prison phone rates, and by introducing legislation to cap all prison phone rates in California.

In late 2013, the FCC adopted an order to lower interstate prison phone rates, capping the cost for a 15-minute call at $3.75.

However, intrastate phone calls remain expensive. And because people in detention often are isolated from community support, they have few resources for reporting abuse to a non-governmental organization.

Therefore, Freedom for Immigrants launched its National Immigration Detention Hotline in 2015 with the support of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Freedom for Immigrants’ National Immigration Detention Hotline started as a pilot program at the West County Detention Facility in Northern California in 2010 with the support of the Y & H Soda Foundation and in consultation with other organizations, such as Families for Freedom, who modeled one of the very first national hotlines supporting people in immigration detention in 2006. 

In response to our success in supporting and advocating for people in immigration detention, ICE blocked our hotline in late 2018.  But the agency cannot prevent our support! We have worked around this setback and continue to provide unimpeded service to people in immigration detention, while we work with Congress to investigate this politically-motivated and unconstitutional targeting of our organization.