What started as a California couple’s goal to raise $1,500 for immigrant legal services is now a multimillion fund to help families facing deportation along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Charlotte and Dave Willner wrote on Facebook on June 16 that they were “collectively revulsed” by the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy, which has led to children being separated from their parents at the southern border en masse.
So, they created a fundraising page for a group called RAICES, the largest legal services provider for immigrants in Texas.
At the bottom of their initial post they wrote, “We are starting our goal at $1500 and will see how far we get.”
Days later, they've raised about $10.4 million, the page has been shared nearly 230,000 times and more than 250,000 people have donated. According to CNN, at one point, the fundraiser was receiving $4,000 a minute.
“There has been a lot of tears around here,” said Ana Maria Rea, an outreach specialist with RAICES in Austin.
Rea said the legal community representing immigrants here “has been hit pretty hard day after day” under the Trump administration and that existing issues with family separation have been compounded, especially over the last week.
Attorneys who have been doing this tough and emotionally taxing work have “trouble wanting to continue sometimes,” she said. The fundraiser has helped.
“These efforts recently have really offered a very rejuvenating feeling for a lot of us in that we are not alone and people are paying attention,” she said.
Rea said the money raised will go toward legal representation for the children.
Yolanda Rodriguez, an Austin-based immigration attorney at the Garcia and Garcia law firm, said many of these children have good standing to seek asylum.
“They just need somebody who’s going to help them get that legal advice, that legal counsel, to file all the appropriate paperwork and get them to court before an immigration judge to grant them that relief,” she said.
Rea said the donations will also pay for bonds to get the parents out of detention and reunited with their children. She said bonds for immigration issues – even for asylum-seekers – range from $1,500 to $10,000, which is very high.
“We just are so overwhelmed with joy that people are doing this,” Rea said. “We really just want to say thank you for everything that everyone has been doing.”
This story has been updated.