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Viral photo inspires record-breaking Facebook fundraiser

What you need to know about the “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child” fundraiser, its photo inspiration and donating.

This photo of a 2-year-old Honduran child crying

This photo of a 2-year-old Honduran child crying as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12 in McAllen, Texas, has inspired a fundraising campaign. Photo Credit: Getty Images / John Moore

As images and headlines of families being separated at the U.S. border have spread across social media, a viral fundraiser has collected more than $18 million in response.

The campaign, set up by a California couple to benefit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, has become the largest single fundraiser on the platform, a Facebook representative confirmed to The New York Times.

Facebook, which launched fundraisers in 2016

What is the fundraiser?

They set an initial goal of $1,500 to pay for one bond to release a parent from detention. But just as the photo captured attention, so did the fundraiser, which went viral. As of Friday, about 480,000 people had donated and driven the fundraiser’s goal up to $20 million. Donations continue to come in by the minute and the goal continues to climb.

The donations are a response to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, under which agents had been separating children from parents who were detained attempting to cross the U.S. border.

The policy has been enforced for the last two months but images of children in detention circulating last week struck a chord on social media. Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ending the separation policy.

What’s the story behind the photo?

The viral photo was taken by John Moore, a photographer for Getty Images. The child, identified as 2-year-old Yanela, was stopped with her mother Sandra Sanchez, 32, in Hidalgo, Texas, on June 12.

The photo was published without identifying the girl, the mother or their whereabouts. The original caption information said the mother was being searched. It did not say whether the family was later separated, but the image quickly became a symbol for those upset about family separation.

The photo became so widespread, it was adapted for Time Magazine’s July 2 cover, released Thursday. In the image, the crying Yanela is facing Trump with the caption “Welcome to America.”

Family members and U.S. officials confirmed late Thursday that Yanela and her mother had not been separated. A man identified as Yanela’s father, Denis Javier Varela Hernandez, told The Washington Post and Reuters that he had located the pair, who are from Honduras, and they were being housed together at a facility in Texas.

U.S. officials confirmed the account Friday.

Where is the money going?

The recipient of the funds is Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based organization that is providing legal resources to separated families.

The original purpose of the money was to pay bond — money paid to free a detained person while their case is processed — for a parent, in the hopes they could be reunited with their children. However, the fundraiser generated enough money that RAICES will also pay for legal representation for families.

How do I know the money is really going where it says it is?

Like any viral fundraiser, social media users should approach requests for money with a sense of skepticism.

Do your research before you donate and make sure you’re familiar with the organization you’re donating to. On Facebook, check that the organization has a checkmark next to its name — that means Facebook has verified they are who they say they are.

One important piece of Facebook’s fundraiser options is that the platform requires nonprofits like RAICES to set up a verified page that identifies them.

Facebook requires IRS, bank and other information before nonprofits can accept donations. Once that information is verified, users who wish to fundraise for a particular group can either donate directly via the group’s Facebook page or, in this case, set up a fundraiser on their behalf with the click of a button.

If you want to do your homework, the New York State Attorney General’s office suggests charitynavigator.org, charitywatch.org, the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance and www.guidestar.org as good options for checking a new charity’s performance.

How does a charity access the money I’ve donated through Facebook?

Payouts take about two weeks for organizations registered with Facebook Payments and payouts must be valued at more than $100.

Charities can also link Facebook fundraising to their own payment processor or to Network for Good, which offers donation management software for nonprofits.

The Facebook funds are unrestricted, so they do not have to go to a specific program and may be used by the receiving organization as they see fit, according to Facebook.

Is it better to donate through a third party like Facebook or directly to the group?

It depends on the platform. Some platforms like GoFundMe do charge fees. On Facebook, there are no fees for donations to charitable organizations.

Make sure to check with the platform that’s hosting the fundraiser if you’re concerned about fees limiting the impact of your donation.

Your best bet is to check directly with the organization what medium they would prefer, which can also help you determine whether the fundraiser is legitimate if you’re unsure.

In the case of RAICES, the organization’s website was so overwhelmed with traffic, it is temporarily inaccessible. Donors are left with the option to donate through Facebook independently, through an established fundraiser or donate to an official campaign set up by RAICES on actionnetwork.org.

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