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Millions Raised For Immigrants Will Be Used To Provide Legal Support


There's a photo - you've probably seen it - of a little girl - pink shirt, pink shoes - crying. She's looking up at the adults who surround her as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border. That photo has been published over and over since it was taken earlier this month, and it's come to symbolize the horror many feel at this moment. But it has also been a source of inspiration. It moved Charlotte and Dave Willner to start a Facebook fundraiser.

The Willners had a modest goal - raise $1,500 to help an immigrant family post bond. Their campaign has now raised $17 million, and donations are still coming in. When that money is released, it will go to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, known as RAICES. That's a Texas nonprofit that, among its activities, provides free legal support to immigrants.

Jenny Hixon is the director of outreach, education and development for RAICES, and she joins me now. Welcome.

JENNY HIXON: Thank you very much.

KELLY: When did you first learn this fundraiser was underway?

HIXON: About midnight on Saturday, I got an email from the Willners saying, hey, this fundraiser that we started seems to be becoming kind of large; could we talk to you?

KELLY: And that was the first you'd heard of it. You didn't know anything about it.

HIXON: That was the first I'd heard of it, yeah (laughter). At that point, I think we were sort of like, maybe we'll raise a million dollars, which to me seemed astonishing.

KELLY: Yeah, which would be great.

HIXON: Right - was far beyond anything we could possibly imagine having raised. So this has clearly gone into sort of stratospheric levels of things we never would have imagined.

KELLY: And what's that been like this week at the office watching as more and more money just kept pouring in?

HIXON: Well, Monday as the totals kept going up and up, my co-workers and I would frankly kind of, like, burst into tears because we couldn't believe that it was growing so quickly. And what we knew immediately is that all of this money actually represents people who we don't have to turn away.

KELLY: What's your annual budget, by the way?

HIXON: Our annual budget is about $6 million, but our entire annual fundraising goal is less than a million dollars. So this was - I mean, this is a lot. This is a lot.

KELLY: Paint me a specific picture of what you will be able to do with this money. I introduced you by saying you - your group provides legal support to immigrants and refugees. What exactly are you going to be able to do that you weren't able to do last week?

HIXON: Well, we've already been able to do several things that we weren't able to do before (laughter). So one of our attorneys was visiting with some dads that had been separated from their children in Pearsall detention center here in South Texas, and they had not been able to speak to their children yet because in order to be able to speak to their children, they needed to pay $25 to get a commissary account. And then the phone calls are about $8 a minute. So we were able to, because we have this funding, put money in their commissary accounts right there so that they could go ahead and talk to their kids.

KELLY: Let me circle back to where we started, the photograph of that little girl at the border with her pink shirt and pink shoes. It's quite something to think about the impact she's going to have.

HIXON: It is, and I think it shows - we've always said that the situations that we see, the children we talk to - if everybody could talk to them, if everybody could see what our attorneys see, a lot of people would be horrified and moved to act. But the system is designed to keep it inside detention centers that nobody can access. And what this little girl in that terrible picture that's really heartbreaking for everybody has done has made everybody start looking. And now that people are looking, we have the opportunity to change it.

KELLY: Jenny Hixon, thank you.

HIXON: Thank you.

KELLY: Jenny Hixon is director of outreach, education and development for RAICES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.