The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A nonprofit received $20 million to reunite families. It wants DHS to use that money.

RAICES has been overwhelmed by the money, which it received in a viral online fundraiser.

A protester holds up a one-word placard during an immigration rally and protest in Civic Center Park on June 30 in downtown Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

A Texas nonprofit organization has received more than $20 million — and counting — from a viral fundraiser organized in its name to reunite migrant families separated at the border as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) has disbursed more than $82,000 in funds to pay off bonds for 18 detained immigrant parents. But it is struggling with how to quickly parcel out the rest of the donations, which came from more than 500,000 people in the United States and around the world.

On Tuesday, as the Trump administration began returning dozens of young children to their parents in response to a federal court order, RAICES staged a symbolic “people’s filibuster” in Washington to highlight its efforts and demand that the federal government speed up the reunification process.

Executive director Jonathan Ryan said the group would “hand off” its funds to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the agency that detains the separated parents. The organization called on the federal agency to use the $20 million to pay off bonds for detained immigrant parents and transport them to their children, who are being held at federal shelters and foster homes across the country.

But a spokesperson for RAICES said the group has had no formal contact with government officials about the money, and it was not clear how any such transfer would take place.

“After battling through this bureaucracy for several weeks, we arrived at the decision that the more than 500,000 people who donated were demanding action now,” Ryan said.

The Trump administration separated an estimated 2,500 children from their parents at the border in May and June.

A San Diego judge ruled last month that the federal government must reunite children under five who were separated from their parents with their parents by Tuesday. Federal officials have been scrambling to meet the deadline, and have acknowledged in court that, in some cases, it has been difficult to track which children belong to which parents.

At least 54 of the 102 children younger than 5 were to returned to their parents Tuesday, the government has said. Older children are supposed to be returned to their parents by July 26.

Since 2014, RAICES has operated a bond fund for detained immigrants and has spent about $400,000 to release these individuals from federal custody and provided them with legal assistance.

The $20 million fund began with an effort by a California couple, David and Charlotte Willner, to organize a Facebook campaign to collect $1,500 to pay the bond for one detained parent.

But as outrage grew over the Trump administration’s mass separation of parents and children, the couple’s fundraiser took off on social media.