Caution, Big Brother Watches Netflix: ICE Sued For Suspending Immigrant Hotline
The hotline was receiving between 600 and 14,500 calls a month and now has gone silent. According to an NGO, it happened after appearing in an episode of the…
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Do you remember an episode from the seventh season of "Orange Is The New Black" where Maritza (Diane Guerrero), one of the young Latina prisoners, has to face deportation? Then another prisoner explains that Freedom for Immigrants offers a hotline for inmates who need a lawyer. She adds: "But be careful, if they find out you're using the line, Big Brother closes it."
After the episode was broadcasted, the U.S. government suspended in August the telephone line that received between 600 and 14,500 daily calls from migrants reporting the conditions of their detention.
This fictitious warning became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Or, as Freedom for Immigrants assures, a reprisal for its 15 minutes of television fame.
In a lawsuit filed last Tuesday by the NGO's attorneys in a federal court in Los Angeles, the Trump Administration is accused of trying to silence them and make invisible the situation of the detainees, and deny them a service they have been providing since 2013 after ICE ceded the line to a group of volunteers in Florida who had requested it.
"They can't close this hotline in retaliation for the fact that they don't like what Freedom for Immigrants is saying," said Moez Kaba, a partner in the firm Hueston Hennigan, which represents the group. "And they can't close the hotline because they want to stop Freedom for Immigrants from saying so."
This suspension coincides in time with the intensification of the government's immigration laws, which began to fine undocumented immigrants who had ignored their deportation orders.
While the Immigration Service refused to make statements about the suit, they insist that Freedom for Immigrants' toll-free immigrant helpline number was removed last year from a list of legal service providers and that at that time the agency notified the group that they were misusing the line, explained ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.
With no way to monitor or record calls, detainees did not use the line only to talk to their lawyers, but the organization used it to connect them to their families, he added.
Some personal news: we are suing ICE. A year ago, we worked with #OITNB to provide an accurate portrayal of life inside a detention center. They featured our hotline on the show’s 7th season. Two weeks after the show’s premiere, ICE shut down our hotline. Today, that retaliation ends. We want our free hotline reinstated #OrangeForever
However, the group clarifies that these free calls from the detention centers allowed them to know the custody conditions, which is not possible now, and that they had the right to help them reconnect with their loved ones on the other side of the border.
Just on Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a joint investigation with Americans for Immigrant Justice into detention centers in Florida that highlighted the lack of medical care and the confinement and isolation of the undocumented in these prisons.
Based on interviews with prisoners, the report documents chilling cases, such as that of a migrant with HIV who had not been seen by a doctor after months of confinement and contracted hepatitis A after eating the food served to them at the facility: "I'm just trying to stay alive," he said.
Also at a Glades facility, a female detainee was diagnosed with uterine cancer, but ICE went a month without scheduling a follow-up appointment: "I will probably be deported before receiving any type of (cancer) treatment," she said. And in Monroe, another immigrant stated that he had found a friend in a wheelchair with a history of cerebrovascular problems dead in his cell.
"The United States has the largest immigration incarceration system in the world," the NGO notes.
And the investigation goes even further.
It assures that "immigration prisons are the new source of income for the incarceration industry," detailing that contracts with ICE to retain undocumented immigrants reach "an average daily rate of $280 per day per person."
"The United States has the largest immigration incarceration system in the world," the NGO notes, adding that Florida is the sixth state with the highest number of people held and more than 2,000 immigrants detained daily.