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VICE News

This couple tried to raise $1,500 for immigrants on Facebook. They raised $10 million.

Money raised will allow immigrants to post bail until their asylum hearing.

by Alex Lubben
Jun 20 2018, 3:39pm

On June 16, just as the Trump administration’s separations of children from their families at the border hit the national consciousness, a San Francisco couple launched what they thought would be a modest fundraiser.

Their goal: to raise $1,500, the minimum to cover the bond for a migrant detained at the border. Just like U.S. citizens, migrants can post bail and walk out of custody until their hearing — they just rarely have the cash on hand to do so.

Four days later, the fundraiser that aimed to get a single migrant out of jail has ballooned into the largest single fundraiser in Facebook’s history, according to a spokesperson for the social media company.

As of Wednesday morning, the fundraiser launched by Charlotte and David Willner had raised nearly $10 million for RAICES, a group that aims to provide legal representation to undocumented immigrants at the border. Over 230,000 people have donated, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. And the donations are still pouring in.

Read: The Trump administration is keeping preschool children in "tender age" facilities

“It was the closest thing we could do to hugging that kid,” Dave Willner told the Mercury News, referencing the children separated from their parents.

At 9:50 a.m. Wednesday, Facebook told VICE News the total stood at $9.2 million, and within an hour it had grown to $10 million. The fundraising goal was set to $11 million — and judging by the pace of donations, they’ll hit that by noon.

Thousands of smaller fundraisers for RAICES have cropped up over the last several weeks, Facebook says. But they haven’t had time to tally up the total that RAICES has raised.

The average donation was just $50, though private donors have matched about $260,000 of those donations.

“We've been occasionally crying around the office all day when we check the fundraising totals,” RAICES posted to Facebook. “This is such a profound rejection of the cruel policies of this administration.”

When released on bond, migrants can try to get their children back from government custody and live in the U.S. until their hearing, which can be months later.

“We can’t all be on the front lines to help these families, but by supporting RAICES, we’re able to do something that just takes less than a minute, and collectively have an impact,” the couple added in a statement to VICE News.

RAICES was struggling to make ends meet before the fundraiser came through. The Trump administration cut government funds to support legal representation for migrants, funding that RAICES relied on.

But thanks to the donations, RAICES will be able to keep up its work of providing low-cost legal representation to immigrants and refugees in Texas.

“Most of us who donated today don't know each other, but we were brought together by a common sense of what is right and what is wrong,” Charlotte Willner posted to the fundraiser’s page on the night it was launched. “That clear moral commonality is what will sustain us. It transcends almost everything. It is an enduring sense of what America ought to be about.”

Cover image: Immigrants wait to head to a nearby Catholic Charities relief center after being dropped off at a bus station shortly after release from detention on June 17, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (Photo by Loren ELLIOTT / AFP)