A legal services nonprofit based in San Antonio has gained a national profile – fast and in a big way: Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES. For many who are frustrated with the immigration policies of the Trump administration – especially family separation – donating to RAICES became a way to do something. The nonprofit ended up collecting more than $20 million through a Facebook fundraiser.
Jonathan Ryan is RAICES’ executive director. He says the $20 million is several times the organization’s annual budget – which is about $8 million. When he joined RAICES 10 years ago, the group had four employees, and about $60,000 in funding.
“At present we are one of the largest immigration legal service providers in Texas with about 130 staff located all around the state,” he says, “But there’s no doubt that what Charlotte and David Willner – the couple who started this – has done has been an amazing gift not really just to us – but to this moment and to this cause to help these women and children who have been separated.”
Money collected during the fundraiser set up by the Willners was originally supposed to be used to pay for a single immigration bond – $1,500. With additional funding, RAICES can now pay the bonds for potentially all of the currently detained women and children. Ryan says presenting the $20 million check in Washington last week was a serious effort to get the money into the federal system.
“We wanted to speak with the administration and say, ‘We have this money,’ let’s sit down at the table – see the list of people who are detained – and work out bond arrangements for all of them in one go,” he says, “It’s basically the standard bond process but for a larger group of people.”
While the Trump administration did not respond to RAICES’ filibuster – it did submit a formal letter to the administration detailing what they are hoping to do in more precise terms. If they do not respond, they will continue to pay the bonds individually while also giving further aid to the families.
The next court-ordered family reunification deadline is this week. Ryan says they are working with other organizations that are stationed outside detention centers that are starting to see movement for detained families.
“We figure that we have approximately $8,000 per family and if we don’t have to spend that money on bonds – then it’s our intent to assist with transportation, with access to services once they get to the cities where they’re gonna reside, and still have to continue through their immigration cases which could be a matter of months or years before them,” he says.
Ryan says having raised $20 million in such a short time could change the dynamic of their organization. But he also says his group has always been focused on providing legal services and responding to humanitarian needs.
“We know what needs to be done – this is not a tabula rasa for us,” he says, “We’ve been working inside of detention centers, we’re a refugee resettlement organization, we’ve worked with post-release for thousands and thousands of people over the last few years.”
A lot of people might think RAICES is a Texas-based organization, but the organization deals with issues all across the border. Ryan believes it’s possible the organization might grow as a result.
“As I’ve said to many people, we’re the poorest organization with $20 million that you’ve ever met,” he says, “This money has a very specific purpose – and it’s time sensitive that we move this money out the door to benefit these families right now.”