ICE Shuts Down Immigrant Hotline Featured on Orange is the New Black

cast of Orange is the New Black

The adage "life imitates art" speaks volumes in today's culture. It rings true as government agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has shut down an immigration hotline featured on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black.

In its final season, the Netflix original series tackles the issue of immigration in today's political climate. In the fifth episode, Diane Guerrero's Maritza learns of a toll-free hotline run by the California-based Freedom for Immigrants organization, which exists in real life. On Aug. 7, two weeks after the season launched, the hotline was shut down by ICE.

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Freedom for Immigrants facilitates a visitation program across the United States for immigration detainees - a  service it has provided since 2013 when it began operations in Florida. Along with the visitation program, the organization had a toll-free hotline for detainees looking legal representation and information on immigration documents and complaints. At its peak, Freedom for Immigrants had three toll-free lines.

The disappointment in the hotline's shutdown can be felt in a statement by Freedom for Immigrants co-executive director Christina Fialho. "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," she said.

Freedom for Immigrants sent a response to ICE in the form of a cease-and-desist letter, charging the agency with wrongful termination as a form of retaliation. The letter is backed by six Orange Is the New Black actors along with over 100 organizations demanding the restoration of the hotline.

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ICE says the organization's number was not on the ICE-approved list of legal services. Shawn Neudauer -- the agency's spokesman --  issued a response to the letter, saying, "Pro bono organizations found to be violating these rules may be removed from the platform."

With her character Blanca being affected by this storyline, actress Laura Gomez has also expressed her disappointment in ICE's decision. "Now we see life mimic art in the most destructive way," she said. "I wish this were more of a fictional situation and we were exaggerating reality, but it’s kind of the other way around.”

Since the shutdown, the non-profit organization continues to provide its service through a regular phone number at a cost to the organization.

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Orange Is the New Black stars Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, Jackie Cruz, Laura Gomez, Selenis Leyva, Taryn Manning, Adrienne C. Moore, Lea DeLaria, Laverne Cox, Dascha Polanco, Nick Sandow, Yael Stone, Kate Mulgrew and Laura Prepon. The seventh and final season is currently streaming on Netflix.

(via Los Angeles Times)

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