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Civil Rights

Government Agrees to Restore National Immigration Detention Hotline

— July 13, 2021

The Trump administration ordered the hotline disconnected after its number made an appearance as an important plot device for two immigrant detainees on “Orange is the New Black.”

A California-based immigrant rights organization has settled a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which shut down a toll-free hotline meant to help migrant detainees report abusive conditions after the number was prominently featured on “Orange is the New Black.”

According to NBC News, immigration authorities have agreed to restore and provide uninterrupted access to the National Immigration Detention Hotline for at least five years.

The government will also pay approximately $100,970 to cover Freedom for Immigrants’ claims for attorney fees and other costs.

A female prisoner shackled in jail. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:OfficerBimblebury. (CCA-BY-4.0)

Freedom for Immigrants, notes NBC News, has spent years working to abolish the federal immigration system. It first launched its lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and I.C.E. in 2019, shortly after the National Immigration Detention Hotline was shuttered.

NBC observes that the hotline was closed down just two weeks after the premiere of the final season of “Orange is the New Black.”

The hotline, adds NBC, was mentioned in various episodes of the Netflix serial, and played a prominent role in the storylines of two characters, Blanca and Maritza.

In the show, Blanca and Maritza both faced deportation proceedings. After they find out that migrant detainees are not entitled to a “free phone call,” they learn about the National Immigration Detention Hotline and begin passing out the number to their fellow inmates.

While I.C.E, under the Trump administration, said that immigrants were “abusing” the hotline by setting up three-way calls to speak to family members and other loved ones, Freedom for Immigrants say the NIDH was shut down for connecting detainees with advocates.

Amanda Diaz, the hotline’s manager, said the organization’s work has always been invaluable to migrant detainees, many of whom have little money and scant access to legal representation.

““In a system designed to dehumanize and disempower, the National Immigration Detention Hotline provides a critical means of connection for people in detention who are isolated from their loved ones and communities,” Diaz said in a statement, reprinted in part by NBC News. “The hotline remains an indispensable tool in providing people in detention a secure way to report abuses and advocate for their freedom.”

While the hotline was restored by a court order in early 2020, Freedom for Immigrants pressed its case against the government.

“This settlement is a victory for the First Amendment rights of Freedom for Immigrants and immigrants in detention,” Moez M. Kaba, an attorney and partner at Hueston Hennigan who served as lead counsel on the lawsuit. “The government cannot simply silence expressions of dissent or critique from people speaking out against the conditions of confinement.”


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