Following the Trump administration’s decision to separate families, I’ve felt a mix of sadness for the families, anger at those directing & facilitating this policy, and troubled by the stories of neglect and abuse coming out of the childrens’ “shelters.” Like many, I was moved to donate towards family reunification efforts but eventually opted not to. My intention in writing this is not to discourage anyone from donating towards important causes, but to illustrate that some problems cannot be solved by fundraising more donor dollars.
Without getting into the history, details, or politics of immigration policy, a major barrier preventing separated families from reuniting was the detained parents’ lack of money to post bail. If the arrested parents could pay for a bail bond, they could be released and reunited with their children. Immigration bail bonds reportedly cost between $1,500 and 10,000 and several organizations fund bail for detained immigrants.
However, after reading up on immigration bail bonds and reading about the viral fundraising successes, it was clear that more than enough money had been raised by dedicated immigration bail bond funds. If there were only one kid per family (roughly 2,500 kids) and the maximum allowable bail of $10,000 was set in every case, it’d only take $25M to bail out at least one parent from each family. Some organizations raised that amount single-handedly. In short, additional dollars donated would have no impact on the issue of family separations (although the early donors may have had a marginal impact and all donations can hopefully be used to fund bail bonds unrelated to family separations).
The second area I looked into was legal services. It’s difficult for residents of the US to understand the legal system and even harder for a new immigrant (and especially under the duress of being separated from their children)! However, my back-of-the-napkin analysis also indicated that the organizations doing this work had raised more than enough to hire sufficient legal personnel. The primary problem does not seem to be lack of funds or capacity for hiring enough people, but the government has not properly documented all the people that they’ve detained and likely deported many parents without their child(ren). It has and will continue to take time to reunite families and it’s difficult to see how more money will expedite the process at this point.
What I Did Do
While I declined to donate, I did advocate in small ways; posting on social media, mentioning here, joining a local rally with my family and friends, and continuing to advocate and donate to organizations that attack the root problems in Central America. Trump created and enacted the policy and had the power to reverse it, which he eventually did when it’s existence and details became known and deeply unpopular even within his family, party, and among his staunchest supporters. In this case, media attention, public scrutiny and advocacy, and legal action were the influential factors.
Should I donate at all?
The point of this post is not “don’t donate.” I believe in giving and giving generously, but giving money isn’t always helpful (and can sometimes be harmful). I find that my initial reaction to donate is often based on a desire for some sense of agency (“don’t just sit there, do something!”) or driven by my ego (“good job Matt, you’re helping out”), which are not good reasons to donate. I believe that if we ignore false narratives and selfish desires, then we can be more efficient and effective with what we do give. At some point, I should probably post some case studies of instances where I did donate, rather than solely focusing on times that I declined. I believe that we should give, but thoughtfully.