Protesters march to offices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on July 13, 2019, to call for an end to criminalization, detention and deportation of migrants.
Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo (Getty)

In what seems to be a case of life imitating art, Donald Trump style, immigration advocates charge the Trump administration deactivated a lawyer hotline set up for detainees—after an episode discussing the hotline aired on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black.

Freedom for Immigrants, a California advocacy group, says Immigration and Customs Enforcement shut down its hotline for ICE detainees earlier this month shortly after Netflix aired an episode of OINB that made mention of just such a hotline, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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Now, the group has presented a cease-and-desist letter to ICE, charging, as the Times explains:

that the termination is a violation of free speech and amounts to retaliation by the government in an attempt to silence one of its prominent critics. Six actors from “Orange Is the New Black” and more than 100 organizations signed a letter to acting ICE Director Matthew Albence demanding that the line be restored.

“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,” Christina Fialho, the group’s co-executive director, told the Times.

Freedom for Immigrants had offered national toll-free hotlines for ICE detainees since 2013, and said that in some months, it received as many as 14,000 calls. Volunteers connected immigrants to lawyers and helped them with paperwork and with questions about their cases.

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Last year, after a different dustup with ICE, the government restricted what had been a national hotline to just certain counties in Florida. Following the airing of the OINB episode, that remaining hotline was shut down earlier this month, according to the Times.

Now, detainees can only reach the group through a regular phone number, which costs the group thousands of dollars to operate, Fialho told the Times.

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ICE officials did not respond to a request for comment, but according to the Times

the agency told Freedom for Immigrants that toll-free numbers for pro bono attorneys and organizations must be approved by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration courts, every three years and that those no longer appearing on the EOIR list will be removed from the system.

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Actress Laura Gomez, who plays a character on Orange Is the New Black who ends up being transferred into ICE custody, says the whole IRL episode with ICE is troubling, telling the Times:

“Now we see life mimic art in the most destructive way.”