The Nonprofit Organizations Supporting Family Reunification

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By Jessica Kantrowitz 3-04-2019
Sandra Cordero, director of Families Belong Together and Erika Pinheiro, attorney and co-founder with Al Otro Lado, in Mexicali-Calexico, Mexico March 2. REUTERS/Cristian Torres

Saturday evening a story broke on The Washington Post that 29 parents were at the U.S. border with legal advocates, reapplying for asylum and attempting to get back the children that had been taken from them into U.S. custody. At the same time, Glennon Doyle and her nonprofit group Together Rising sent out an email giving more background on how those 29 parents were found and brought together to the border. Two of Together Rising’s board members, Liz Book and Glennon’s sister Amanda Doyle, were there with the families and sending live video updates. Initially, they were told that there was no capacity to process the asylum seekers — but around 8 p.m. Saturday they began allowing all 29 parents and their families to enter.

Washington Post compiled the moving stories of many of the parents:

Many of the parents, like José Ottoniel, from the tiny town of San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala, said they had been pressured into signing deportation papers after being separated from their children, before they could begin their asylum claims. When he returned home after being deported in June, Ottoniel was told that his 10-year-old son, Ervin, was still in the United States at a shelter.

Together Rising is unusual in the nonprofit world in that it is entirely volunteer run, with no overhead costs, so that 100 percent of donations go directly to the people for whom they were raised. The group is also striking in that instead of soliciting large amounts from wealthy donors, money comes in mostly small donations, but from many people. For this particular project — reuniting asylum-seeking families who had been separated from their children — 77,000 people donated $4.2 million after a “love flash mob” last May. Since then, Together Rising has partnered with organizations such as the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), and KIND (Kids In Need of Defense) to provide legal services and support to children and families.

Saturday night’s action at the border was the result of intense, on-the-ground work organized and funded by Together Rising and Al Otro Lado, along with Matthew 25 Southern California, ACLU, Families Belong Together, and clergy partners. 

I spoke by email Saturday night with two of Together Rising’s volunteers, Katherine Oelrich Welch and Gloria Goeres. Katherine is the Stewardship Team Lead and Operations Manager for Together Rising (and was also hosting a sleepover for 10- and 11-year-olds while fielding my questions and monitoring things at the border). Gloria is Together Rising’s Program Manager and also on the Stewardship Team, and the two told me about how Together Rising initially got involved in the work. 

"When Glennon first read about families being separated at our Mexican border by our government, she immediately knew this was an issue Together Rising needed to become involved in," they told me via email. "... Together Rising raised over $4 million that was distributed to organizations well established in the immigration field so these organizations had ample resources to work toward reunification of all separated families."

Liz Book and Amanda Doyle, who were both at the border during the weekend's work, are both lawyers, though they don't specialize in immigration. Rather, Oelrich Welch and Goeres said they were there as representatives to show solidarity and accompany the families. 

In a video update Saturday evening, before the families had been allowed in, Amanda Doyle described how the decision was made to bring the families back to the border:

We’re here today because there are 29 … families who had an impossible decision to make, and that was, “Do I leave my child in the U.S. and never see them again, or do I stay here in this country that is so dangerous for my child that I left everything to escape and give them a better life?” So we said, “You don’t have to make that choice … .”

She also stressed that, even after the families had been allowed in, that that pressure was still needed. In another update late Saturday night, Amanda outlined the next steps for the families:

There’s a few things that can happen next, which we’re going to keep you informed of. We are not going to forget these people until we know that these things happened. They could be separated inside the abyss that is ICE until they get to the other side in the U.S. They could be separated, they could be detained, [but] the coalition of the groups we have been working with has found sponsors for all of those families so that they should not be detained, they should be kept together as family units, and placed with the sponsors … Our next goals are: get them across, get them out of detention and in with sponsored families, [and] once they are with their sponsored families, safe environments, we can unite their children with them.

Together Rising is continuing to raise funds to support the families and their sponsors, including the medical costs for a woman who is seven months pregnant and was having preterm labor pains as she waited to cross the border.

Jessica Kantrowitz is a writer and editor living in Boston. Her work has been published on Think Christian, the Our Bible App, and The Good Men Project, and shared widely throughout social media. You can find her at her blog, Ten Thousand Places, and on Twitter.

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