Season 7 of “Orange Is The New Black” exposed several truths about ICE detention facilities and the struggles that jailed migrants face. From the lack of resources to the separation of children from parents, the Netflix original series was incredibly on point about these travesties that are being perpetrated with the permission of the United States government.
One of the major themes that impacted Maritza, Blanca and the other ICE detainees in the series was their inability to contact anyone for help. In the episodes, it was impossible for the women to call friends, family or lawyers for assistance without a phone card. Phone cards required cash. Each minute cost about $3 per minute. When the characters did have money for a card, the kiosk to buy the phone cards and stamps was broken. Essentially, they were trapped without the ability to call or write for help.
In order to combat this problem, the women of Spanish Harlem find a free number that the detainees can use and, as it turns out, the number and the organization it contacts is real.
In Season 7, Gloria and Flaca find a number for the real immigration assistance charity, Freedom for Immigrants. Back in 2010, attorney Christina Fialho and cultural anthropologist Christina Mansfield co-created California’s first visitation program at the West County Detention Facility. From there, the organization grew to include other facilities.
Their visitation program joined forces with four other similar programs to become a non-partisan, non-profit organization called Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). This organization would later change its name to Freedom for Immigrants and would continue to help jailed migrants get access to the outside world.
In 2015, the program started its own national hotline that connects people in these detention facilities with volunteers and resources who can help.
The organization sometimes receives as many as 14,000 calls per month from migrants from 148 different countries who speak over 80 different languages. The hotline is completely free and offers help to those who couldn’t otherwise afford the detention facilities’ expensive calls. Just like in Season 7 of “Orange Is The New Black,” the hotline helps connect detainees with pro bono legal services.
In the series, Maritza and Flaca write down Freedom for Immigrant’s hotline in order to distribute it to other detainees. However, Gloria cautions against getting too involved for fear of retaliation against the women. Sure enough, Maritza is soon deported as soon as the guards catch on to her actions.
Unfortunately, this same retaliation was aimed at Freedom for Immigrants last year and it limited the organization’s ability to help their migrant clients.
Although visitors have the right to pass out their number to detainees, members of Freedom for Immigrants have always been cautious when passing out their hotline number. They were aware that guards and officials were not supportive of a free line to the outside. In 2018, ICE blocked access to Freedom for Immigrants number in their facilities. This occurred after volunteers for the program refused to sign away their rights to speak to the media about conditions inside the centers.
Blocking their number impacted the organization’s ability to offer support to the ICE detainees. The migrants already had such little help and contact with the outside world. By blocking Freedom of Immigrant’s number, ICE officials completely took away access to the outside world and all hope they had for freedom.
This isn’t the first bout of retaliation that the organization has experienced.
Back in 2013, ICE shut down three visitation programs that Freedom for Immigrants was affiliated with. This happened following a Huffington Post editorial that the organization wrote about conditions of these facilities. In the past, ICE has also blocked the personal cell phone numbers of volunteers to further isolate detainees from the outside world. In the meantime, donors to the Freedom for Immigrants organization have helped volunteers spread calling cards to detainees as the nonprofit continues to fight to have their number unblocked.
While free people outside of these facilities can survive threats and retaliation, migrants trapped in detention do not have the same freedoms and assurances.
When jailed migrants are caught attempting to access these helpful services, they also face retaliation. Just like Maritza, they have to worry about threats of deportation. Isolation, violence and transfers to other centers are also tactics used against detainees to keep them compliant.
Ultimately, ICE does not want these migrants to have any access to the outside world. They don’t want them to have help or hope. “Orange Is The New Black” is obviously a work of fiction but the series got this detail right and it’s painful to see. However, we can’t look away. To look away would be a disservice to the jailed migrants and the volunteers trying to free them.
You can help further the cause of Freedom for Immigrants by volunteering or donating here.