With President Trump's tough stance on immigration and advocacy of a border wall, the Spanish-language network Telemundo — part of the Comcast Corp. media empire — is holding telethon-like phone-in shows to offer Mexicans and other Latinos free legal advice, opening a new area of competition with its rival Univision.
The 90-minute phone banks, staffed with local immigration lawyers, confidentially connect with local Telemundo62's audience of Latinos clustered in pockets around the Philadelphia area.
"I would say it's anxiety and uncertainty," Ines Ferre, consumer reporter for Telemundo62, the national network's Philadelphia affiliate, said Tuesday. "The people who legalize themselves, they are trying to do that."
In the past, immigrants called the Telemundo62 consumer line mostly about bills. Now, they often ask about federal crackdowns, what papers to carry, or how to help a family member.
Telemundo62 held its first phone-in bank — like a telethon but without the fund-raising aspect — in February, with six lawyers answering calls. They were swamped. A second telethon was held in May. This Thursday, Telemundo62 will hold its third phone-in bank between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. with 20 lawyers.
Telemundo62, available both on an over-the-air TV station and through pay TV, says there have been so many calls to the phone-in shows that the phone number will not be released before the event.
Immigrants will have to tune in to Telemundo62 around 5 p.m. to get the phone number, Telemundo62 officials said on Tuesday. The informational phone bank is held during the Telemundo62 newscast. Ferre periodically checks with the lawyers who are taking the calls during the news show, but the conversations are not broadcast on television, she said.
Telemundo affiliates in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix, Tucson, and Denver also have hosted televised or live-streamed informational phone banks, the network says.
Sarah Caruso, an immigration lawyer in Moorestown, participated in the February phone bank and will do so again on Thursday. "When we were testing the phone lines, there were people already on them wanting to talk," she said.
With Obama, immigration authorities focused on removing criminals, recent illegal immigrants, and those with previous removal orders, said Kimberly Tomczak, a lawyer with the Center City law firm Gian-Grasso, Tomczak, & Hufe P.C., which specializes in immigration law.
"The shift we are seeing under Trump, and that leads to anxiety, is that there are no clear priorities [for removal], which makes everyone a priority," Tomczak said.
Telemundo62's big local competitor is Univision 65, the affiliate of the other major Spanish-language network. The Philadelphia Univision affiliate has not hosted recent immigration phone banks. But it has held phone banks on health care, the station says.
Univision has historically been the No. 1 Spanish-language network, but Telemundo has significantly closed the audience gap over the last two years.
Univision's affiliate in New York, WXTV, held a phone bank on July 14 with the Catholic Charities and New York Office for New Americans on general immigration questions, a network spokeswoman said. The New York station also is hosting this week a three-day phone bank this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday with Hispanic Federation and the New York State Office for New Americans on the naturalization process.