A Silicon Valley couple started a Facebook fundraiser to help immigrant children who are being separated from their parents at the southern border, and it has already raised millions. Charlotte and Dave Willner started the campaign on Saturday with a goal of raising $1,500, enough to post the bail for one parent, and by Tuesday morning, they had raised more than $5.5 million. At one point Sunday, donations were being made at a rate of $2,000 per-minute, Dave Willner told the San Jose Mercury-News.
You can donate to the “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child” campaign here. The couple also put together an FAQ about the fundraiser and how the money will be used that you can read here. Those without Facebook can donate directly through RAICES’ website here.
The funds will be going to Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, commonly known as RAICES, a Texas-based charity. RAICES provides “free and low-cost legal services to under-served immigrant children, families and refugees.” One hundred percent of the donations will go to RAICES, as Facebook does not collect a service fee on its fundraisers. Facebook’s campaigns are set up to benefit just one organization, but the Willners are now trying to get others to match donations for additional legal services organizations in other states.
“We are collectively revulsed at what’s happening to immigrant families on our southern border. In times when we often think that the news can’t possibly get worse, it does – we learned last night that 2,000 children (many of them infants and toddlers) have been separated from their parents in just six weeks under President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy,'” the Willners wrote on the fundraiser page. “These children don’t know where their parents are. Their parents aren’t allowed to communicate with them while in custody. The government hasn’t set up a system to reunite separated parents and children if one or both are ultimately released. In many cases, parents have been deported without their children – sometimes, young children are deported without their parents.”
Here’s what you need to know about Charlotte and Dave Willner:
1. Charlotte & Dave Willner, Who Have a 2-Year-Old Daughter, Say They Were Moved to Start the Campaign by a Getty Photo of a Young Girl Crying at Her Mom’s Feet
Charlotte and Dave Willner have a 2-year-old daughter, and when they saw a viral Getty photo of a 2-year-old girl from Honduras crying as her mother was detained by Border Patrol, they were inspired to do something, they told the San Jose Mercury-News. “It was the closest thing we could do to hugging that kid,” Dave Willner told the newspaper. His wife added, “These aren’t kids we don’t have to care about. They’re like our kids. When we look at the faces of these children, we can’t help but see our own children’s faces.”
On Facebook, the couple wrote, “Until the election, I think there’s little chance of a political solution to this grave American moral failing. But there is still something we can do. Today we are raising money for RAICES (https://www.facebook.com/raicestexas), the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas. For years, RAICES has been working with some of the most vulnerable members of our society to ensure they receive advocacy and fair legal representation.” They said RAICES has two goals, “directly fund the bond necessary to get parents out of detention and reunited with their children while awaiting court proceedings,” and “ensure legal representation for EVERY child in Texas’ immigration courts (last year, 76% of kids (over 13,000!) did not have representation).”
The original Facebook post shows how far the campaign has gone since it was started. “Bonds are set at a MINIMUM of $1500, and are usually in the range of $5-10K, even for asylum seekers without any criminal history. We are starting our goal at $1500 and will see how far we get,” the wrote. Their goal is now $5 million.
The Willners are both former Facebook employees and were among the first people to work for the social media giant. Their friends in the tech world quickly helped the fundraiser take off. According to Politico, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg both made donations to the campaign. But while they received large donations from their Silicon Valley connections, many of the donations were smaller, including just $5 to $10. The average donation has been $40, the couple said.
Charlotte Willner said her Republican relatives and her husband’s family of Democrats were among those to donate. “What’s been so encouraging is watching where the donations are coming in from. I’ve had so many conservatives, the very evangelical side of my life, being excited about this.” She said they have seen donations from “small heartland donors.”
Charlotte Willner said they hope their efforts will be part of putting an end to political divisiveness. “People are wondering, where does this stop? Where do we find our commonness again? One place we find it is here.”
2. RAICES Thanked the Couple for Their Efforts, Saying the Donations ‘Will Save Lives’
On Facebook, RAICES issued a heartfelt thank you to the Willners for their efforts and to everyone who donated.
“We do not have the words to thank Charlotte and Dave Willner. Thanks is inadequate for the work these funds will make possible. We know it will change lives. We know it will save lives by keeping people from being deported to unsafe countries,” the charity wrote on Monday. “We’ve been occasionally crying around the office all day when we check the fundraising totals. This is such a profound rejection of the cruel policies of this administration. Take heart. There are terrible things happening in the world. And there are many people who are deciding not to look away but to do something. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
RAICES has two major projects the funds will support:
– LEAF – The Legal Representation, Advocacy, and Education (LEAF) Project will provide universal representation for released unaccompanied kids in Texas. Simply, children are being taken from their families, put into a system not equipped to ensure their safety, and losing the representation designed to be their safeguard through this process. Last year, 76% of kids in immigration court in Texas were not represented. That’s over 13,000 children without legal help. This fund will guarantee legal representation for children so they do not have to do this alone.
– Family Reunification and Bond Fund: FREE our Families – Parents separated from their children at the border (and other immigrants placed in detention) can’t get released from ICE custody to reunite with their families until they pay the full amount of their immigration bond. Bonds are set at a MINIMUM of $1500, and are usually in the range of $5-10K, even for asylum seekers without any criminal history. This fund will directly support legal services for detained separated parents and the direct funding for bonds to get parents released.
NBC News’ Adrian Carrasquillo said on Twitter, “Facebook said there’s been an increase in fundraisers for RAICES over the past week w/ hundreds of smaller campaigns (with goals ranging from $200+).”
“I have no better way to describe it than just absolutely stunned and incredibly grateful because the funds that have been raised will enable us to do so much work,” Jenny Hixon, director of education and outreach for RAICES, told the Mercury-News. She said
3. The Willners Met at Bowdoin College, Where They Were Both Part of the Class of 2006 & They Have Been Married Since 2009
Charlotte and Dave Willner met at Bowdoin College, where they both graduated as part of the class of 2006, according to Bowdoin’s website. They have been married since 2009. Charlotte Willner was an English major with a minor in art history, while her husband studied anthropology and was an archaeology minor. They both said their liberal arts education has helped them in their careers in tech.
“What is a liberal arts education for? It is to produce informed citizens in a democratic society,” Dave Willner said in an interview with the Bowdoin news site. “The current wave of technology is consumer technology — we’re not talking about careers where your job is making very tiny wires. When we all talk about jobs in tech, we’re talking about jobs in consumer technology or the sharing economy, and those are fundamentally about human interactions. And while Facebook has technically hard problems — like it has to store two billion people’s photos indefinitely for the rest of time — the hard problems those companies face are, what do you do about live video murder? In terms of consequences for the company and the societal impact, the hard problems are the human problems.”
Charlotte added, “People who are good at problem solving are good at the jobs we do, and people who make an effort to solve problems and who try to get to the best answer. Those are the people who are really going to succeed in our field or fields tangential to ours.”
Charlotte Willner is originally from Menlo Park, California. She said in an interview posted on Bowdoin College’s website, “I knew I wanted a small liberal arts school, and I didn’t find any I liked in my home state of California. I applied to Bowdoin early decision after my campus visit. I was quite taken with the little details, which I guess only a prospective student might notice: a professor remembering my name in class, smiles from the students in a choir rehearsal, marshmallows for the hot chocolate in the dining hall. The friendliness of the campus community and the rigor of the academic program impressed me deeply. I was extremely excited to matriculate the following fall, and I’ve never looked back.”
Dave Willner is originally from Missouri.
4. Charlotte Willner Was Facebook’s 250th Employee & She Now Works at Pinterest as Head of Trust & Safety
Charlotte Carnevale Willner began working at Facebook in 2007 after graduating from Bowdoin and was the company’s 250th employee.
According to her Linkedin profile, she started at Facebook as an analyst in user operations, “sleuthing account access issues,” and helping with its community translations tool. She then became the international team lead for user operations in March 2008, a job she held until November 2010. Her next job was as the head of Facebook’s authenticity team, working “to give people a genuine and safe experience on Facebook.” She was safety manager in user operations from November 2010 to October 2013, working to “prevent and disrupt real-world harm stemming from onsite interactions.”
Willner moved to Pinterest in 2013, joining its community team. In August 2014, she was named Head of Trust & Safety, her current position.
On Facebook on Monday, Willner wrote about the audio posted by ProPublica of children crying at a detention facility, “For the last eleven years, I’ve reviewed online content for a living. I’ve seen millions of pornographic images, hundreds of thousands of beatings and beheadings and road accidents and crime scene photos and videos. I could only make it through 36 seconds of this. If you are someone, or if you know someone, who is undecided about what’s happening to these children in our country, in our name — please see if you can get further than me.”
5. Dave Willner Was Facebook’s 270th Employee & Is Now Head of Community Policy at Airbnb
Dave Willner, who is from Missouri, started working at Facebook a year after his wife, in 2008, and was the company’s 270th employee. He also started in user operations, working on groups, pages, events and photos, according to his Linkedin profile. In November 2008, he moved to site integrity operations, where he “worked on a team fighting porn, hate, bullying and spam.”
Willner was named head of content policy in March 2010 and he held that position until November 2013. He managed the team responsible for Facebook’s community standards while in that role. In 2014, Willner left Facebook and began consulting startups on community and content policy. He was hired by Airbnb in May 2015 as head of community policy.
“Technology is not politically neutral. The Internet as it exists today is built on the premise that a multiplicity of voices is good, and that is wired directly into how the whole things is built,” Dave Willner said in an interview posted on the Bowdoin College website. “That is one of the reasons why spam is such an unstoppable monster. Because fundamentally the Internet was created in a way that resists centralized control. And I would say the same thing to some extent about Facebook. The idea that the world should be more open and connected is not a politically neutral idea, it privileges the idea that everybody should have a voice.