In the seventh and final season of Orange Is The New Black, audiences see Blanca Flores, played by Laura Gómez, and Maritza Ramos, played by Diane Guerrero, in an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention center. Flores was placed in the detention center for pleading guilty to leading a prison riot, which violated her probation, and Ramos was caught in a club without her ID, so ICE agents placed her in the detention center. As the season progresses the audience sees these two characters among other newcomers fighting to stay in the United States.
In the fifth episode of the season fans see Ramos discovering that there is a toll-free hotline where she can get a free lawyer to work on her case. However, series regular Gloria Mendoza, played by Selenis Leyva, cuts her off. Mendoza tells Ramos, “You have to be careful, though. Apparently if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down.” Sadly that is also the last episode Ramos appears in as she is sent back to her home country, Columbia.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, less than two weeks after the season aired, a national hotline for detainees was shut down after it was mentioned in the show. The National Immigration Detention Hotline was a free and confidential resource that offered legal advice and assistance to the people who were placed in the detention centers. On August 7, the hotline was officially shut down. Christina Fialho, an attorney, co-founder, and executive director for Freedom for Immigrants told The Hollywood Reporter, “ICE is attempting to silence its critics and block people in immigration detention from connecting with communities on the outside. It’s disappointing but not unexpected that Trump’s ICE would engage in such cruel and undemocratic behavior.” Marlene Galaz, Freedom for Immigrants’ national hotline director continued to state, “The National Hotline is a crucial resource for people in immigration detention. It is concerning that ICE’s response to criticism is to block avenues of free and safe communication.”
On August 22, the nonprofit wrote a cease and desist letter to ICE asking them to restore the hotline. It was also accompanied by a letter of support that was signed by members of Congress as well as the producers and actors from Orange Is The New Black. The letter stated, “Being featured in OITNB brought massive attention to the organization’s work regarding abusive and neglectful conditions in immigration detention centers. And for this, we are being punished by our government.” The series was able to shine a light on the issue of the immigration detention centers, and the storyline was covered in the media and was praised by critics.
The series producer Tara Herrmann and stars Guerrero, Gómez, Vicci Martinez, Emily Tarver, Alysia Reiner, and Beth Dover are all demanding that the hotline be restored. Martinez, who played Dominga “Daddy” Duarte stated, “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.”
When production began on the final season of the show, the writers visited a detention center in Adelanto, CA. Guerrero, who is an activist whose parents got deported when she was only 14, stated, “When they went it wasn’t as disgusting as it is now. Maybe you didn’t see 158 people in a room that only fits 50. I hope this brings some light to that and that people can have a clear understanding of what the immigration system looks like in this country, acknowledge it is broken and know that they have a huge responsibility in helping to fix it.” Co-star and fellow activist Gómez stated, “What we did with season seven is going to be more of a source of information for many people than the news. You can escape the news, but not your favorite show.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the hotline was first shut down in Florida back in 2018, and something the group has been fighting with letters signed by members of Congress. After the shut down on August 7, the new letter showing support for ICE’s pro bono system audit stated, “It is clear that these post hoc rationalizations from ICE are a pretext for violating our First Amendment rights.”
An ICE spokesperson stated, “All ICE facilities provide detainees with reasonable and equitable access to telephones. Detainees are further allowed to make free calls to an ICE-approved list of free legal service providers for the purpose of obtaining initial legal representation. Because these legal calls are unmonitored and unrecorded, certain prohibited activities, to include three-way calling and call forwarding, are strictly prohibited. Pro bono organizations found to be violating these rules may be removed from the platform. However, removal from this platform in no way limits the ability of an ICE detainee to phone such an organization directly should the detainee wish to do so.”
Freedom for Immigrants is currently asking for donations to pay for the phone calls until the hotline is restored.