Orange Is The New Black  actors Vicci Martinez (left) and Emily Tarver (right) join Freedom for Immigrants’ co-founder Christina Fialho outside the Northwest Detention Facility in Washington.

Orange Is The New Black actors Vicci Martinez (left) and Emily Tarver (right) join Freedom for Immigrants’ co-founder Christina Fialho outside the Northwest Detention Facility in Washington.

ICE Terminates National Detention Hotline, After Orange Is The New Black Highlights Its Power

Aug 23, 2019, LOS ANGELES - Freedom for Immigrants issued a cease and desist letter yesterday to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) after the agency’s latest attack on the organization’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.  It was accompanied by a letter of support signed by seven producers and actors of the popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black (OITNB) in partnership with 121 organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

ICE terminated Freedom for Immigrants’ National Immigration Detention Hotline, which has been operational since 2013 and was previously available to people in immigration detention as a free and confidential resource. The termination of the National Immigration Detention Hotline occurred on August 7, 2019, within two weeks of the premiere of Season 7 of OITNB, which featured Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline by name. 

“Immigration detention systematically isolates detained individuals from their communities,” said Cynthia Galaz, the National Hotline Director for Freedom for Immigrants. “The National Hotline allows for communication and community building between those inside and outside of detention. By blocking access to Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline, ICE furthers community disenfranchisement and prevents the public from knowing about what happens inside these facilities.” 

Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline was featured in a storyline throughout multiple episodes of Season 7 of OITNB, and the organization’s connection to OITNB garnered widespread media attention. InStyle Magazine published an oped written by Freedom for Immigrants staff, BuzzFeed published an oped by OITNB executive producer Carolina Paiz about her visit to a detention facility with Freedom for Immigrants, Los Angeles Magazine published a profile piece on Freedom for Immigrants. Dozens of other new outlets, including People Magazine, Salon.com, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The Hill, NBC New York, published stories mentioning Freedom for Immigrants. 

“The timing of the shut downs is deeply concerning.  Freedom for Immigrants is being targeted for exposing abuses in detention and amplifying the stories of people suffering in the system” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/ executive director of Freedom for immigrants. “Once again, ICE is trying to make us choose between our First Amendment rights and supporting our friends in immigration detention. This is not a choice our government can legally ask us to make.”

Having access to the hotline was very important to me, said Vlentín*, an activist and frequent hotline caller formerly detained in immigrant prisons in California and Louisiana “Freedom for Immigrants was my only connection to the outside to report the medical neglect I suffered. But I also made friends with many volunteers, who came to recognize me as soon as I said “Hello”. The hotline was crucial for me in the face of the abuse and solitude I endured while in detention.

“We are heartbroken to hear about the shutdown of this hotline.  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.  We stand with Freedom for Immigrants and urge ICE to restore their hotline immediately,” said Vicci Martinez, a musician and actor on OITNB who has begun visiting immigration detention facilities with Freedom for Immigrants.  

Martinez is joined by producer Tara Herrmann and actors, Diane Guerrero (Maritza, OITNB), Emily Tarver (CO McCullough, OITNB), Alysia Reiner (Fig, OITNB), Laura Gómez (Blanca, OITNB), and Beth Dover (Linda Ferguson, OITNB) in demanding that Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline be restored. An earlier version of this letter was sent to ICE with the cease and desist letter.

If you are interested in supporting Freedom for Immigrants, consider a tax-deductible donation to help us pay for phone calls for people in immigration detention until our hotline is restored.