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ICE Blocks Immigrant Hotline After TV Characters Discuss It

Group provides free lawyers to detainees
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 24, 2019 9:32 AM CDT
From left, Kate Mulgrew, from left, Diane Guerrero, Selenis Leyva, Jessica Pimentel, Jackie Cruz and Dascha Polanco appear in a scene from "Orange is the New Black."   (AP Photo/Netflix, K.C. Bailey)

(Newser) – Less than two weeks after characters in Orange is the New Black discussed a hot line detained immigrants can call for help, ICE took the line down. Six actors from the show are among the people who signed a cease-and-desist letter sent to the acting director of ICE to try to restore the line, which is operated by a California organization, the Los Angeles Times reports. Netflix released the episode July 26 in which two characters talk about getting a free lawyer by calling the number. "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," said a leader of the group Freedom for Immigrants, which runs the hotline. The number had been in operation since 2013, per NBC, and was shut down Aug. 7. ICE said only that toll-free numbers for pro bono lawyers and groups have to be approved every three years.

The episode warned this could happen. "Apparently if they figure out that you're using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down," Gloria told Maritza. The two characters were in deportation proceedings and had found out they weren't entitled to a free phone call. They learned about the hotline and gave the number to other detainees. "Now we see life mimic art in the most destructive way,” said actress Laura Gomez, who plays Blanca in the series and signed the letter to ICE. "I wish this were more of a fictional situation and we were exaggerating reality, but it’s kind of the other way around." (Read more Immigration and Customs Enforcement stories.)

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