Fundraiser to reunite families separated at U.S. border raises $5.4 million in four days

The fundraiser started on Saturday morning with a goal of $1,500, but at one point on Monday the campaign was earning $4,000 every minute.

A Facebook fundraiser started by a California couple has raised more than $5 million dollars over just four days for immigrant families separated at the U.S. border.

After seeing a viral photo of a crying two-year-old immigrant girl witnessing her mother’s arrest, Charlotte and Dave Willner took to Facebook to start a fundraising campaign called “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child.” The goal as of Saturday morning was $1,500, but at one point on Monday the campaign was earning $4,000 every minute.

“These aren’t kids we don't have to care about. They’re like our kids,” Charlotte Willner told the San Jose Mercury News. “When we look at the faces of these children, we can’t help but see our own children's faces.”

About 133,000 people had donated $5.4 million as of Tuesday afternoon.

The money goes to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit in Texas that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees.

“We do not have the words to thank Charlotte and Dave Willner,” RAICES posted on Facebook. “We’ve been occasionally crying around the office all day when we check the fundraising totals. There are terrible things happening in the world. And there are many people who are deciding not to look away but to do something.”

Since May, more than 2,300 immigrant children have been separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy that orders the criminal prosecution of every person caught illegally crossing the U.S. border.

In the past, immigrants caught crossing the border illegally were placed with their children in immigration detention, but the new policy calls for border-crossing adults to be placed in federal prison, effectively resulting in an inevitable separation from their children.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the policy last week with a bible verse.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government, because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful,” he said, leaving out what the verses from Romans 13 go on to say:  “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Sessions and other anti-immigration proponents have framed the policy as a clear-cut “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” scenario that places culpability squarely in border-crossing parents’ hands.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters on Monday:

“In the last five months, we have a 314% increase in adults and children arriving at the border, fraudulently claiming to be a family unit,” she said, later adding that those “are traffickers, those are smugglers. That is MS-13. Those are criminals and those are abusers.”

That increase is accurate on year-over-year basis, but what she didn’t mention was, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s own data, alleged child smuggling accounted for only 0.6 percent, or 46 cases, of total border apprehensions so far this year. 

President Donald Trump has said the policy comes from laws signed by Democrats in congress, but the directive came from his administration and could be reversed “with a phone call” from the president, as Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told CNN.

Many Americans oppose the policy, including some leading Republicans and more than 600 members of Sessions’ church, arguing that it inflicts psychological trauma on children.

In early June, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the Keep Families Together Act—a bill that would ban family separation except in cases where officials believe child abuse or trafficking is taking place. It’s currently the only bill that would stop the practice, and it has the support of all Senate Democrats but zero Senate Republicans, some of whom have said they’re looking into drafting their own legislation to tackle the issue.

“Congress has a moral obligation to take a stand and say that families should not be forcibly separated,” Feinstein said in a statement. “To traumatize them further is unconscionable, and I hope that our Republican colleagues will work with us to put an end to this immoral policy.”

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