Millions of dollars pouring in to help families separated at border


AUSTIN — Social media campaigns to raise money for organizations helping with the immigrant family separation crisis have gone viral and some groups receiving the funds say they’re dedicated to connecting families and children with legal counsel.

“Since early May, we’ve actually been interviewing families at the federal courthouse who’ve been separated from their children,” Zenen Jaimes Perez, advocacy director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, said.  

Perez says so far in June, the group has conducted legal intake for more than 300 families in the McAllen courthouse who’ve been separated from their kids.

“We only have about seven to 10 minutes to talk to each person,” he said. “Meanwhile, we’re trying to basically get their entire story and make sure that we can connect them to legal counsel.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the group has received more than $600,000 in donations. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg began a fundraiser online to help both the Texas Civil Rights Project and The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), another legal advocacy group.

“We’re doing daily courthouse visits,” Perez said. “We’re doing payment for attorneys, paralegals and other legal assistance, to basically do all this intake, input the data and actually reach out to the pro-bono network we have.”

Ana Maria Rea with RAICES says the money the organization receives from the donations will primarily help pay for cash bonds for parents who are detained.

“Bonds are set at a minimum of $1,500 per individual,” she said. “It can range anywhere from $1,500 up to $5,000.”

RAICES also has their LEAF Project, which is collecting funds to ensure it can provide legal representation for the children. The group has received around $6 million, through its own website and a Facebook campaign.

Family law attorney Jodi Lazar learned about matching donation efforts after she spotted a tweet from a fellow lawyer within an online network under the Twitter handle @LadyLawyerDiary about fundraising for the organization.

“Here I am in Austin, Texas,” Lazar said. “I don’t speak Spanish. I can’t go to D.C. and protest. I can’t go to McAllen and volunteer to help the Texas Civil Rights Project interview families and the people who are being detained, so the best I can do is give money.”

Lazar said she’s devastated at how these separations can deeply impact the bond between a parent and a child. Kendyl Hanks, a lawyer who is helping organize the matching donations to the Texas Civil Rights Project, said the amount is now up to around $13,000.

Texas Civil Rights Project says every dollar donated will be directed at helping separated families. RAICES says it’s unclear where any leftover funds could go, because they’re still assessing the current need and trying to connect all families with legal assistance.

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