Bay Area Couple Raises Millions to Reunite Migrant Children With Parents

The goal started at $1,500, but the viral fundraiser quickly drew millions of dollars in support.

As nearly two months of the U.S. government horrifically separating children from parents at the southern border comes to a head, a Bay Area couple has helped raise $17 million and counting to reunite them.

What began as another Trump administration policy that opponents try not to get depressed over has churned out distressing stories about border agents mercilessly ripping away a breastfeeding child from its mother, a father who died of suicide after being separated from his wife and three-year-old son, children in cages, leaked audio of children crying for their parents while border agents joke about the noise, and so on. In the first six weeks alone, about 2,300 kids were separated from their parents at the border, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed on Friday.

So on Saturday, Bay Area residents and former Facebook employees Charlotte and Dave Willner posted a fundraising campaign for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas nonprofit. The goal started at $1,500 but has ballooned past $17 million — and is continuously surpassing new goals.

“We are collectively revulsed at what’s happening to immigrant families on our southern border,” the Willners wrote. “In times when we often think that the news can’t possibly get worse, it does.”

The Trump administration has deflected blame in conflicting, differing ways. President Donald Trump has repeatedly tried to blame Democrats for his own policy, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Neilsen said that policy does not exist and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz jumped in to blame a nonexistent court order.

“Until the election, I think there’s little chance of a political solution to this grave American moral failing,” said the Willmers. “But there is still something we can do.”

The $5 million raised by the Willmers will go a long way in funding the release of jailed parents, who have been deported back to their home countries while children have remained in U.S. custody. Like Refinery29 suggested, others are calling their representatives, encouraging others to call their representatives, protesting, donating to RAICES and the American Civil Liberties Union, volunteering as translators, and generally refusing to let this die out in a news cycle.

Though the Trump administration shows no signs of reversing the policy, public opinion is working heavily against it. The latest poll numbers showing an average of 64 percent opposition from registered voters.

Even Republicans are split on the issue and all five living first ladies — most notably Laura Bush — came out in opposition to the practice.

“I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries,” Bush wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

UPDATE: When the article was posted on Tuesday afternoon, the fundraiser drew in $5 million. It has since more than doubled and the article has been updated to reflect the increased amount.

RAICES has an annual operating budget of about $500,000, the San Antonio Express-News reported. SF Weekly was unable to immediately confirm the amount due to the website being down due to “higher than normal traffic.”

Related Stories