A mural depicting a train is painted on the outside of the RAICES office.
A mural depicting a train is painted on the outside of the RAICES office. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

viral fundraising campaign on Facebook has raised more than $13 million to help immigrant families that have been split up by the Justice Department’s zero-tolerance policy at the border.

California residents Charlotte and Dave Willner launched the campaign Saturday with an initial goal of raising $1,500 for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). However, the fundraiser quickly went viral with more than 350,000 individual donations.

Annie Ta, a spokesperson for the couple, told the Rivard Report more than $10,000 was coming in every minute for nearly five hours on Wednesday. The average donation has been around $38.

RAICES estimated a total of $14 million had been donated since June 16, which included the amount raised on Facebook and what the organization had received directly, said Katie Mullins, staff attorney with RAICES in San Antonio.

The minimum bond set for a single detained immigrant is $1,500, but fees could be upward of $5,000, and in certain instances, $10,000, Mullins said. She is one of about 50 attorneys working throughout the state providing free or low-cost legal help to immigrants and refugees.

Since April, more than 2,342 children have been separated from their parents after crossing the southern U.S. border, according to Department of Homeland Security figures obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

President Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday in response to mounting political pressure and national outcry, backing off his administration’s zero-tolerance policy. However, the need for funds and legal representation remained high for those detained.

The nonprofit RAICES plans to use the funds to hire more attorneys and fund its existing programs and services. Those services include the Family Reunification and Bond fund, which covers bonds to release parents, and the Legal Representation, Advocacy, and Education project, which works to provide universal legal representation for released unaccompanied minors in Texas.

(From left) Aurora Ibarra, RAICES legal assistant, and Katie Mullins, RAICES staff attorney, discuss notes in the office.
(From left) Aurora Ibarra, RAICES legal assistant, and Katie Mullins, RAICES staff attorney, discuss notes in the office. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In addition to funding legal services, RAICES is depositing money in commissary accounts for detainees so they can call family members and begin the process of tracking their children.

“The whole process is incredibly complex and confusing, and there are so many radical barriers to reunification” once a family is separated, Mullins said. “For some people, they have nowhere to turn [for] money in order to even make the initial phone call.”

In light of Trump’s executive order, RAICES announced Wednesday it also would use the donations to start a joint reunification fund where it would partner with other local organizations to ensure the money reach as many people as possible.

RAICES has reunited three families so far.

San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller told the Rivard Report that families seeking refuge in the United States often are fleeing dangerous circumstances, and have come with nothing but their hope for a better life for their children.

Local news is at the heart of democracy.

Our newsroom works on your behalf to hold officials accountable. But we can't do it alone. We rely on membership donations from readers to support our fact-based reporting. Will you join us and donate now?

Archbishop Gustavo-García-Siller socializes before the San Antonio-Mexico Friendship Council reception in honor of Ambassador Reyna Torres Mendivil at the Mexican Cultural Institute.
Archbishop Gustavo-García-Siller. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“These people, their lives have been damaged in so many ways, we have to think about how we are going to help them heal,”García-Siller said. “The trauma that they are experiencing arriving in the U.S. after leaving horrific conditions affects minds, hearts, and emotions, and affects people for good.”

While a change in policy is welcome, García-Siller said, “human dignity at the center of this picture has been missing,” which can be remedied by sharing blessings.

These blessings, he said, include the funding RAICES has received to help reunite immigrant children with their families.

“What started out as a hope to help one person get reunited with their family has turned into a movement that will help countless people,” Ta said. “When we all come together in community efforts like this, we can find an antidote to the feelings of helplessness.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.