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Facebook Fundraiser For Immigrant Legal Fees Soars To $17 Million


A week ago, Dave and Charlotte Willner started a Facebook fundraiser. They called it "Reunite An Immigrant Parent with Their Child." Their goal was $1,500 for the organization RAICES, which provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children, families, and refugees in Texas. They figured that was enough to provide bail to get one family out on bail. Let's just say, they did better than expected. Speaking to us from their home in Menlo Park, Calif., are Dave Willner and Charlotte Willner. Thank you both so much for joining us.

CHARLOTTE WILLNER: Thank you for having us.

DAVE WILLNER: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: So as of this morning, you've raised how much?

C. WILLNER: Nineteen million dollars and a little more.

D. WILLNER: Yeah, we - I think should close in on 20 today.

MARTIN: So let's go back for a minute. What made you decide to do this?

C. WILLNER: So we've been aware of what was going on at the border with these families for a while. But we have a 2-year-old daughter and we saw John Moore's photo of a child with her mother crying at the border as they were being apprehended. And her face just looked exactly like our daughter's when she's terrified.

D. WILLNER: Yeah - down to the curls of her hair, they really are almost dead ringers for each other. It's a bit remarkable. And then I think on top of it, both of us have, you know, fairly - fairly personal if somewhat more remote connections to immigration. My great grandfather was actually an unaccompanied minor when he fled Jerusalem back during when it was owned by the Ottoman empire and eventually made his way through to N.Y., came through Ellis Island - he's on the wall there - and actually made his way through the depression making shoes for The Rockettes - and you really don't get much more American than that.

MARTIN: How old was he? Do you know?

D. WILLNER: I believe he was in his late teens when he fled.

MARTIN: Wow. How did you hear about this organization, and how did you know that $1,500 was a good number to start with?

C. WILLNER: So RAICES stood out as a good organization for me because they do do direct work with these families. They work with them in these detention centers. They connect them to the resources they're going to need, both for their asylum cases and for, you know, any sort of longer-term needs they have. And specifically with RAICES, they do have this bond fund. So they had already set a target and they were raising towards this target of being able to bond out, you know, as many families as they could.

MARTIN: So, you know, when the fund was only four - was only - only, listen to me - only at $4 million, a spokesperson for Facebook told The Washington Post that it was already one of the largest fundraising efforts on Facebook ever. By Thursday, half a million people - nearly half a million people - had contributed. And I was wondering if, you know, about, you know, who's been contributing, why. And what do you think it means that half a million people, and counting, have wanted to contribute to this?

D. WILLNER: I mean, I think fundamentally what it means is people like, and love, and care about children, and we've seen that in who's contributing. At this point, the average donation is only about $37. And we know from writing down where people have mentioned they're from that we have donors from all 50 states - from Puerto Rico, from Washington, D.C., and from at least 30 other countries. On top of that, I'd say - and this is again much more observational but just watching how people talk about it, this is also not, I don't think, confined simply to Democrats or folks who are already inclined to not be super pumped about the Trump administration. Charlotte's had a lot of interactions with people from abroad, variety of backgrounds, that sort of indicate that.

MARTIN: We were speaking with Dave and Charlotte Willner. They are the organizers of the wildly-successful Facebook campaign to provide legal services to detained migrants on the border. They expect to have raised $20 million by the end of the day and counting. And they were nice enough to talk to us from their home in Menlo Park, Calif. Dave Willner, Charlotte Willner, thank you so much for speaking with us.

C. WILLNER: Thank you.

D. WILLNER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.