When ICE launched a hotline for reporting undocumented immigrants, people flooded the hotline to call in pranks to slow down the system. The plan picked up even more steam as the people discovered just how much fun they could have and shared the hotline number online, encouraging others to prank the hotline.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame if millions of people called this hotline to report their encounters with aliens of the UFO-variety,” one activist wrote, as others suggested phoning in with information on Superman, Bigfoot, among other fantastical sightings.
The campaign received some media coverage, but ICE told the media that while the lines may have been “tied up,” there was “no disruption.”
That characterization grossly understated the effectiveness of the protest, internal emails and documents obtained by The Verge under the Freedom of Information Act show. The calls nearly brought the system to a halt, leaving operators unable to answer almost all incoming calls during the protest. ICE attempted to contain the narrative, and lie to the public about the impact of the prank.
In the first days of operation, Internal reports from ICE describe an “overwhelming” amount of calls. The day after the hotline was launched, ICE received more than 16,000 calls. Of those, only 260 could be answered. Callers in queue waited as long as 79 minutes to reach an operator. An official noted that if the rate of calls were to continue, ICE would need an additional 400 operators to field the hotline.
In emails exposed by FOIA request, an official described how any media coverage could exacerbate the problem. “The pranking issue has garnered some media attention, and the thought early on was not to give it any public pushback so as to avoid growing the issue even further.” The emails also show ICE responding internally to the calls, discouraging the media from covering the issue while discussing the possibility of coordinating with Fox News to provide crime victims to counter the groundswell against ICE.
ICE declined to explain why it characterized the hotline incident as it did.