RAICES works endlessly to reunite separated families. (Image via Slate)

What RAICES Is, and Why They’re Our Best Hope at the Border

The non-profit is fighting to hold the Trump administration accountable for the family separation crisis.
July 20, 2018
7 mins read

RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, is a non-profit legal agency based out of Texas that is well versed in immigration cases and, as of last month, well equipped to alleviate the family separation crisis at the border. And recently, they received a $20 million donation from a Facebook fundraising campaign started in the wake of the separations.

First, it needs to be made clear that RAICES merits these donations; they work diligently around the clock to provide services to immigrants that would be unobtainable otherwise. The attorneys, legal assistants and support staff that make up the organization work tirelessly to meet the rising and seemingly endless demand for legal representation in immigration cases. And to their credit, they have been doing this for three decades now.

The current organization grew out of the Refugee Aid Project that began in 1986, alongside other immigrant activism efforts such as the Sanctuary Movement and Casa Oscar Romero, both of which helped South and Central American refugees coming through the Texas border.

The non-profit has steadily grown since its inception and now accommodates a staff of about 130 employees. According to their website, RAICES “provide consultations, direct legal services, representation, assistance and advocacy to communities in Texas and to clients after they leave the state.”

The Facebook fundraiser that provided the organization such a huge sum of money was created by Charlotte and Dave Willner, out of California, who were devastated by an image of a 2-year-old crying as her mother is searched at the border.

Their fundraiser, titled “Reunite an Immigrant Parent with Their Child,” began on June 16 and reached $20 million within two weeks. Their efforts, in tandem with a variety of other fundraising events, have shown that there is a tremendous amount of empathy for these issues, and for the work that RAICES is trying to do.

Charlotte and Dave Wilner have a 2-year-old of their own and claimed they couldn’t look at a photo like this without seeing their own children. (Image via Heavy)

The organization currently has two main initiatives focused on getting kids back to their families: the Legal, Advocacy and Education Project (LEAF fund) and the family-reunification bond fund.

The first is aimed at a problem that has grown exponentially over the last few years: unaccompanied, underage immigrants don’t have access to representation in court, and they definitely don’t understand the processes. RAICES dedicates a large portion of their time to these efforts alone, and the donated funds help to achieve the LEAF fund’s goal to provide universal legal representation for undocumented kids.

The family reunification bond fund obviates its intent, but it is worth discussing how the donated money will work within the fund. Felix Salmon of Slate Magazine explains that a bond fund is an excellent charitable investment, as bonds are repaid when cases are closed, whether that be through the granting of legal status or deportation.

This means that a well-established bond fund has the potential to run indefinitely, as long as the bailed immigrants meet their court dates and conclude their cases. This fact alone merits the large amount of support that the organization is receiving.

On top of these initiatives, RAICES divides its time tending to the many dire situations in desperate need of their help, and the donated money goes a long way to expanding their capacity to heed all those calls. The organization and the immigrants they serve only stand to benefit from as much money as can be mustered.

With the money it’s looking to go on a hiring spree for new staff, both for direct legal case work, as well as volunteer coordination and training. They will also invest in improving their operational efficiency and the supporting services they can provide for their clients.

Most notably, the action warranting headlines recently has been using the donation funds as a political tool to pressure the administration with an immediate solution to the border crisis. On Tuesday July 10, the organization went to Washington, D.C., to present a “people’s filibuster,” a check for $20 million to the Department of Homeland Security, demanding that it cover the bond costs to reunite the families at the border.

In effect, their act is a calculated gesture to keep media attention on the issue rather than a tenable solution that they expect to be pursued. Not only are they placing pointed public pressure on the administration to act, but that pressure is backed by the donations of an outraged and worried population. That $20 million came as the emotional response of 500,000 people. It lends the demand for change a powerful collective energy that is impossible to dismiss.

However, the administration may very well try to ignore it. They’ve seemingly avoided discussing the filibuster, even as RAICES repeatedly calls them out on their inaction to reunite immigrant families.

Protesters have become angry and impatient with the seeming disinterest and stalling of the administration in regard to family separation at the border. (Image via Time)

It should also be noted that the administration has taken to habitually setting deadlines that won’t be met as an effort to delay and diffuse outrage on topics they do not wish to confront; the DACA deadline earlier this year was essentially forgotten, and the more recent deadline to have very young children reunited with their parents only amounted to about half of the set quota.

When these deadlines are placed, media attention is essentially displaced for some time, enough for a subject to stop trending, or for some other media event to completely overshadow it—the Helsinki Summit serves as the most recent example. However, despite the shifting of the media’s attention, the problems don’t go away.

The atrocities of family separation and the trauma that is inflicted upon those kids is not something that can be neglected. And the lack of effort on the administration’s part is absolutely despicable.

RAICES is making sure that this crisis will not leave the public consciousness. Their efforts are evident in the amount of support they have received. While the filibuster mostly serves as an ample poetic gesture, the money raised is still serving the same cause.

They will be paying bail bonds to reunite families, albeit at a much slower pace. That same donated money will allow the organization to expand and more effectively provide legal services for immigrants and asylees in need.

If you were ever uncertain as to where to confide your charity, RAICES and the families at the border are in dire need of all the money they can get.

Josue Romero, Southwest School of Art

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Josué Romero

Southwest School of Art

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