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ICE Targets Immigrant Helpline After It Appears In Episode Of ‘Orange Is The New Black’ Proving The Cruelty Is The Point

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In it’s seventh and final season, Orange Is The New Black aired a storyline to shed light on the dehumanizing features of immigration detention centers. However, there was a glimmer of hope presented in the fictional Netflix series: a hotline for immigrant detainees that provided free lawyers. Best of all, the hotline existed in real life. It’s not crazy to think that the level of exposure the show provided for the hotline could literally save lives. 

But even on the show, use of the hotline came with a warning: “You have to be careful, though. Apparently, if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down,” Gloria warns Maritza in the seventh season. 

In a chilling twist, consistent with the Trump administration’s war against immigrants, two weeks after the series aired, the hotline was shut down. It’s nothing short of gut-wrenching. 

Immigration advocates want answers. 

The California group Freedom for Immigrants, an organization that runs visitation programs in detention centers nationally and who provides the hotline, believes ICE’s decision to shut down the hotline was a direct response to Maritza’s immigration storyline. 

On Thursday, Freedom for Immigrants responded to the shutdown with a cease and desist letter. The letter claims that termination of the hotline is a violation of free speech and is retaliation by the government. Over 100 organizations and six actors from Orange is the New Black signed the letter addressed to ICE Director Matthew Albence. 

“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,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants.

Maritza’s story is too familiar.

Diane Guerrero who portrays Martiza in the show has been an outspoken advocate of immigration reform. Born to undocumented immigrants from Colombia, Guerrero, who is a citizen, stayed in the U.S. after her family was deported when she was 14. She told her story in the memoir In the Country We Love. Just as it is for most Latinxs living in the U.S., immigration for Guerro is clearly personal. 

When Maritza’s character is essentially left for dead at an immigration detention center, she is told about the Freedom for Immigrants hotline by Gloria. The hotline was toll-free, a pivotal detail because immigrants don’t have the right to a free phone call after they are detained. Heroically, the duo passed the hotline number to other detainees. It was a small act of liberation, as was featuring it on the show. 

Abolish ICE.

ICE told the organization that that tollfree numbers for pro bono attorneys and organizations require approval by the Executive Office for Immigration Review. Funny, it was never an issue before. Almost seems like this administration is actively seeking legal loopholes to be as cruel and callous toward immigrants as possible. Freedom for Immigrants has provided the hotline since 2013. The organization received as many as 14,000 calls a month from detainees and is run by volunteers who connect immigrants with free lawyers. Losing this service will have a cascading negative impact on immigrants and their loved ones.

The cruelty is the point.

Meanwhile, the ACLU is suing the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana for the unlawful jailing of Ramon Torres. Despite providing his passport, social security card, and driver’s license to police officers to prove his citizenship, he was jailed for four days. The Sherriff’s Office deputies told Torres that every Hispanic person was being automatically held for immigration review. Yes, they’re rounding us up. Because we know, because we been knew, this was never about immigration status. This has always been about race. 

“Ramon Torres was held in jail for four days simply because he has brown skin and a Latino name,” ACLU of Louisiana legal director Katie Schwartzmann said. “This is racial profiling, which is unconstitutional and deeply harmful to our communities. What happened to Mr. Torres is inexcusable. Locking people up based on race or ethnicity is antithetical to our most cherished American values.”

We won’t be silenced.

There’s no sugar-coating what is happening in the United States. While it has never been the American Dream we were promised, now it is increasingly dangerous to be Latinx in America. Our stories and visibility matter most of all during this time. Art has the power to enlighten and normalize experiences. Art has a way of bringing the unseen to the forefront. This usually activates its viewers for the better. However, we have an administration that lacks any and all humanity. “Now we see life mimic art in the most destructive way,” she said. “I wish this were more of a fictional situation and we were exaggerating reality, but it’s kind of the other way around,” said Laura Gomez who plays Blanca, another character who falls victim to ICE on the show.

ICE Is Taking Advantage Of Migrants Who Can’t Read Or Write In Their Court Proceedings

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ICE Is Taking Advantage Of Migrants Who Can’t Read Or Write In Their Court Proceedings

Sandy Huffaker / Sandy Huffaker

Last summer, images of undocumented immigrant children went viral. These images didn’t show them crying, or being taken away from their parents. These children were pictured alone in court. The nameless children had no one by their side, no one to represent them, and had no clue what was going on, despite the fact that they were there trying to seek asylum. In some cases, these children wore headphones as a means to translate what the judge was saying. However, given that they were just children, the translation was almost useless. Reports are now servicing that immigration officials are using the language barrier as a means to keep them out of the U.S. 

An op-ed, written by a volunteer at the border, states that asylum-seeking immigrants cannot read or write in English or in their native tongue and immigration officials are taking advantage of that.

Emily Reed, a recent grad student from Barnard University, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post that stated she witnessed this manipulation from immigration officials against illiterate undocumented people. Reed was at the border in Texas volunteering with classmates at the South Texas Family Residential Center volunteering with the Dilley Pro Bono Project when she witnessed this manipulation. 

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection often conveniently exploit asylum seekers who cannot read. Along with an unfamiliarity with our deliberately complex immigration system, the illiteracy of Central American migrants, especially women, facilitates the deportation of parents and separation of families,” Reed wrote. She added, “By manipulating illiterate refugees who often unwittingly sign away their rights, the U.S. government is violating the basic tenets of the internationally recognized and protected right to seek asylum.” 

Reed added that her volunteer program with the legal center provided Spanish documents to the migrant families, but they couldn’t under that either.

“Simple translation is not enough,” she wrote. “The Dilley Pro Bono Project provides documents in Spanish, but even this paperwork was difficult for many migrant women to understand. Many women I helped to fill out paperwork struggled simply to write their children’s birth dates.”

The migrant families are being rushed within the court and legal process, which in turn, is causing deportation to happen a lot faster.

Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that the haste paperwork at the border made it possible for immigration officials to rush and deport undocumented immigrants. The ACLU stated this process should not be rushed because people need to take their time and understand what is going on and what it is that they’re signing. 

“This waiting period is crucial to ensure that parents have an opportunity to make an informed decision about whether to fight their own removal cases, leave their children (who may have their own asylum claims) behind in the United States, or make some other decision,” the ACLU stated lasted year. “In short, families will be making life-altering decisions after months of traumatic separation — and the fact that the government is trying to shortchange them a matter of days to do so is galling.”

A New York Times report showed that 58,000 asylum seekers are currently stuck in Mexico under Trump’s policy because they’re awaiting asylum hearings.

The backlog for these asylum hearings is up to six to eight months, and when they’re ready for their hearing the majority of them won’t understand what needs to be done. This is why they need proper representation, and a patient legal system so they comprehend what is being asked of them and what the next steps are. 

What makes this matter even worse is that there’s not enough legal representation for each family unit, or individual, at the border. 

Last year, it was very apparent that there were not enough lawyers or legal help for undocumented immigrants at the border, and this year there’s even more undocumented people awaiting help and attempting to seek asylum. There people like Reed who want to help asylum seekers, but it’s not as easy as they might think. 

“People see the crisis happening, and they want to do something right now, which is great. But when we explain that this is a long-term fight, and we need your long-term commitment. That’s when people sort of back off.” Zenén Jaimes Pérez, the communications director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Huffington Post last year. 

If, however, you are willing to put in the time, or you’re interested in learning more about how you can provide legal help, or assist legal teams at the border, please reach out to: the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (“ProBAR”); the Immigration Justice Project (“IJP”); the ACLU of Texas; and RAICES.

READ: Selena Gomez Announces New Netflix Series ‘Living Undocumented’

This Teen Girl Was Forced To Wait In Mexico Under The ‘Remain In Mexico’ Policy And She Nearly Drowned In The Rio Grande

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This Teen Girl Was Forced To Wait In Mexico Under The ‘Remain In Mexico’ Policy And She Nearly Drowned In The Rio Grande

In June, 25-year-old Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-year-old daughter Angie Valeria drowned in the Rio Grande trying to reach the U.S. to seek asylum. The horrific image of their lifeless bodies, face down, in the water, was published everywhere. Some said the image represented the immigration crisis, others said their death was the result of President Donald Trump’s anti-asylum agenda. The truth is both of those aspects, but the fact remains that countless people have died trying to cross through the Rio Grande, and some just don’t make it. Some, however, fortunately, survive. 

A 17-year-old girl Honduran asylum-seeker was swept into the Rio Grande and nearly drowned.

According to BuzzFeed, the young girl named Breni entered the river with a friend in order to bathe. However, both girls were taken in by the current. Her friend, a 14-year-old, sadly didn’t make it and drowned in the river. 

“They couldn’t get to me and the water sucked me in,” Breni said in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “All I could see was water before I went under and then everything went black.” 

Thankfully, the girl was rescued by fellow migrants who eventually were able to pull her out of the waters.

Her father, who was nearby, saw that she was being pulled out and believed her daughter was dead. According to the report, others did as well because her rescuers did chest compressions. Breni was taken to the hospital and it was there that she finally woke up.  BuzzFeed News reports that Breni and her father are living on the streets of Matamoros, Mexico awaiting their U.S. asylum hearing. They did not disclose why they had fled their country of Honduras. The father added that he feels the hospital released his daughter too soon. 

“It’s tough because I want my daughter to be okay and I know they didn’t give her the attention she deserved,” Breni’s dad said. “I wish we didn’t have to bathe in the river, but we do it out of necessity. We don’t have much here.”

The number of migrants deaths at the border is unclear, though as of June there have been more than 283 deaths. 

According to the Associated Press, “283 migrant deaths were recorded along the 2,000-mile border last year. The death toll so far this year was not immediately released.” Many of those deaths occurred when people were trying to cross the Rio Grande. Several deaths were recorded this summer, and earlier this year in May, a raft that overturned killed four people, including a baby

“The Rio Grande Valley Sector currently has multiple campaigns focused on rescues and danger awareness, such as ‘Operation Big Rig’ and ‘No Se Arriesgue’ to combat smuggling and ultimately save lives,”  Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in the release, in June, according to CNN.  

The Rio Grande stretches 1,885 miles and is used by migrants to cross into the U.S. 

While the CBP claims to have agents to help migrants at the Rio Grande Valley, other information express the contrary. The Associated Press reports that Border Patrol spokesman Ramiro Cordero said in June that “that in past years, agents would be posted near canals and hear the cries of help from migrants. But they are doing other duties this year with so many immigrants showing up, some in poor health. ‘Unfortunately, because of the large influx of illegal aliens and agents having to be diverted to other duties, such as transporting, hospital escorts … there are not a lot of agents readily available to hear these cries.'”

As of August, there are an estimated 58,000 asylum seekers that are stuck in Mexico under Trump’s policy because they’re awaiting asylum hearings.

The New York Times is reporting that 58,000 asylum seekers remain around Mexico’s border, in various cities, as they await their hearing. The backlog for these asylum hearings is up to six to eight months. The reason why the asylum seekers remain close to the border is that they’re unsure of when they will be called for their court hearing. According to the Mother Jones article, they can sometimes be told to appear within hours.

On Sept. 9, federal courts “reinstated a nationwide injunction blocking a Trump administration asylum ban that denied asylum to anyone at the southern border who had transited through a third country en route to the United States,” the American Civil Liberties report after they filed a lawsuit against Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy.  ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt stated, “The court recognized there is grave danger facing asylum-seekers along the entire stretch of the southern border.”

READ: Thanks To Trump’s ‘Remain In México’ Policy, A Man And His Kid Were Kidnapped Hours After Returning To Mexico