After damning Netflix show, US authorities accused of trying to ‘silence critics’

Still from Orange Is The New Black
Ed Sykes

In early August, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shut down a hotline that had helped “tens of thousands of detained immigrants to obtain legal counsel”. This seemed to be in response to the helpline featuring in a damning Netflix show highlighting the horrors of immigration detention.

The powerful final season of Orange is the New Black (OITNB) named the Freedom for Immigrants ‘National Immigration Detention Hotline’ in one of its episodes. As the group wrote, “OITNB’s fictional portrayal of immigration detention could not be closer to the truth“. The organisation also pointed out that its connection to the show had attracted “widespread media attention”. Less than two weeks after the programme aired, ICE shut the helpline down.

“Deeply concerning”

Freedom for Immigrants’ Hotline director Cynthia Galaz said:

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By blocking access to Freedom for Immigrants’ hotline, ICE furthers community disenfranchisement and prevents the public from knowing about what happens inside these facilities.

The group’s co-founder Christina Fialho, meanwhile, insisted:

The timing of the shut downs is deeply concerning. Freedom for Immigrants is being targeted for exposing abuses in detention and amplifying the stories of people suffering in the system

OITNB actor Vicci Martinez also spoke out. Having visited detention facilities herself, she stressed:

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.

ICE trying to silence critics?

On 23 August, Freedom for Immigrants announced that it had sent ICE a “cease and desist letter“. It also sent a support letter from OITNB producers and actors, along with 121 other organisations, which said ICE’s decision:

undermines trust and accountability of government institutions, dissuades public service by community organizations, and further isolates vulnerable detained individuals.

The cease and desist letter, meanwhile, stressed that the shutdown was:

impermissible retaliation to the organization’s First Amendment-protected expression. The hotline’s termination also creates the clear appearance ICE is attempting to silence critics and limit the public’s awareness of alleged abusive conditions in immigration detention.

ICE reportedly told the group that it had simply removed its name “from the list of ICE-approved nonprofit and community groups”.

Fighting back against corporate and political cruelty

Freedom for Immigrants’ Liz Martinez has previously explained that:

immigration detention is completely driven by profit.

And she pointed out that the detention ‘business‘ has grown in recent decades, stressing that:

immigration detention as we know it today did not exist really before the 1980s.

In short, such detention isn’t something that just started under Donald Trump’s administration, even if the levels of cruelty have risen. Indeed, establishment favourite for the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden reportedly “spent his career helping build the very deportation state now in Trump’s hands”, both as a senator in the 1990s and as Barack Obama’s vice president.

Fortunately, groups like Freedom for Immigrants and shows like OITNB shine a crucial light on the horrors of immigration detention. And hopefully, the more people know, the more they’ll resist.

Featured image via YouTube – Salut Louka

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