In what Facebook is calling its single largest fundraiser ever, a couple from Silicon Valley raised more than $20 million to help reunite migrant families separated at the border.
The issue has created a national firestorm about the Trump administration’s immigration policies, with many calling the separation of children from their parents at the southern U.S. border barbaric.
Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families over a six-week period.
When Charlotte and Dave Willner created the "Reunite an immigrant parent with their child" fundraiser on Facebook Saturday, the goal was to raise $1,500 for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (Raices), which is the largest immigration legal service provider in Texas. The fundraiser has gone viral since then, and at one point it was raising $4,000 a minute.
So far, more than 523,000 people have donated.
“We are collectively revulsed at what's happening to immigrant families on our southern border. In times when we often think that the news can't possibly get worse, it does − we learned last night that 2,000 children (many of them infants and toddlers) have been separated from their parents in just six weeks under President Trump's 'zero tolerance' policy,” Charlotte Wilner wrote in a Facebook post.
“These children don't know where their parents are. Their parents aren't allowed to communicate with them while in custody. The government hasn't set up a system to reunite separated parents and children if one or both are ultimately released. In many cases, parents have been deported without their children — sometimes, young children are deported without their parents.”
The inspiration behind the Facebook post? A picture of a Honduran toddler crying next to her mother near the Rio Grande as she was searched and detained by immigration officials. That picture, taken by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer John Moore, has also gone viral.
“It was the closest thing we could do to hugging that kid,” Dave Willner told The San Jose Mercury News.
The girl's father later revealed to The Washington Post that she was not separated from her family while under U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody and was instead being held with her mother at a detention center in Texas.
Charlotte Wilner goes on to explain in their Facebook post why she thinks it’s important to raise money for the immigrant families and how the donations will help.
“Until the election, I think there's little chance of a political solution to this grave American moral failing. But there is still something we can do. Today we are raising money for RAICES, the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas. For years, RAICES has been working with some of the most vulnerable members of our society to ensure they receive advocacy and fair legal representation. They have two key goals at this time:
- directly fund the bond necessary to get parents out of detention and reunited with their children while awaiting court proceedings
- ensure legal representation for EVERY child in Texas' immigration courts (last year, 76% of kids (over 13,000!) did not have representation)
Bonds are set at a MINIMUM of $1500, and are usually in the range of $5-10K, even for asylum seekers without any criminal history. We are starting our goal at $1500 and will see how far we get.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have both contributed to the fundraiser and urged others to do so as well.
"We need to stop this policy right now," Zuckerberg wrote in his Facebook post.
Hundreds of comments have poured in from people all over the world supporting the campaign.
"We've been occasionally crying around the office all day when we check the fundraising totals. This is such a profound rejection of the cruel policies of this administration," Raices said in a statement. "And there are many people who are deciding not to look away but to do something. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) June 19, 2018