Immigration and Customs Enforcement reportedly shut down a hotline that allowed detained immigrants to make toll-free calls to an organization connecting them with free lawyers after that hotline was featured on a popular television show, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The hotline was run by an organization called Freedom for Immigrants, which had operated the hotline since 2013. Certain phone numbers are given special extensions by the phone service provider, Taltom Communications, so detainees can make free calls. All other calls cost money to make.
During a recent episode of the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," the hotline was central to the plot, with one character warning another that "if they (ICE) figure out that you're using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down." Season 7 of the show focused on an immigration detention storyline.
The episode was released July 26, and the hotline was allegedly shut down on Aug. 7.
According to Freedom for Immigrants, ICE shut the phone line down because it was not approved by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, an approval that must take place every three years or a number will be removed from the system.
Freedom for Immigrants co-executive director Christina Fialho said their organization had never been on the EOIR list, but had been given a toll-free extension anyway. The group is now paying several thousand dollars a month to offer services to detainees for free.
The organization has sent a cease-and-desist letter to ICE claiming that shutting down the hotline is a violation of free speech and retaliation against criticism.
"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," Fialho said.
TheBlaze has reached out to ICE for clarification on this situation. The organization has not yet commented publicly on the hotline or potential reasons for its removal.