ITHACA, N.Y. — Over the past week, a group of students from Cornell University have worked to raise over $1,000 to support an organization that specializes in immigration legal services. One part of that is helping to reunify families that have been separated at the Southern border.

Many people have likely seen the fundraiser circulating on Facebook for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, the largest immigration legal services nonprofit in Texas. So far, more than $20 million has been raised through Facebook. RAICES funds bonds to allow parents to reclaim detained children.

Winnie Ho, one of the organizers of the local fundraiser, said the minimum bond is $1,500, so the goal was to help the cause by raising at least a portion of that bond cost. Ho, who is in the Class of 2019, worked with five other students from across campus to put the fundraiser together, including Tarannum Sarwat Sahar ’20, Rose Ippolito ’20, Lizzie Lee ’19, Jaylexia Clark ’19, and Anuush Vejalla ’20.

With the news about the zero tolerance policy and family separation at the border, Ho said she and the other organizers were growing concerned and wanted to find a way to pitch in. Ho said she did not personally have much money to contribute, but she thought she could contribute her organizing skills to help raise at least more than she could give on her own.

The fundraiser for RAICES is Facebook’s largest fundraiser campaign. In less than a week, it raised $20 million. The goal initially started at $1,500. According to the campaign, the nonprofit directly funds bonds to help parents reclaim their children. Last week, Trump signed an executive order to end family separation but said the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy would continue.

Last week, Ho and the other students set up a table in front of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts for a few hours a day and asked people to donate what they could. They had no idea how much they would raise, but Ho said they found the community was very generous. In the first day, they raised $120. Throughout the week, they surpassed their original goal by receiving $560.

As people across the country turned out to rally and protest, including on the Ithaca Commons on Saturday, the students were wrapping up their fundraiser. But in a dark turn of events, about $360 in cash they had raised was stolen from their table in front of them. They reported the incident to Cornell University Police, but Ho said they don’t believe they’ll ever get the money back.

“We don’t believe we’ll ever catch who’s responsible,” Ho said. “But we’ve made peace with it. It was a very heartbreaking moment but we had a job to do.”

But Ho did not want to dwell on the bad, as she said there are much bigger issues and divisions nationally to focus on. In addition to the children being separated from families at the Southern border, last week the travel ban was upheld. She also said people should also be aware of the dozens of South Asian asylum seekers being detained at a federal prison in Oregon.

After processing the theft of their funds Saturday, the students took to social media to let people know about the situation, “as Millenials do,” Ho said.

The response was quick. Within the first 20 minutes, Ho said her Venmo account (a money transfer platform) jumped to nearly $100 and within two hours they surged past $500. As of Monday afternoon, they have raised more than $1,120. Though their fundraiser is over, Ho encouraged people to help in any way they can.

“This is a story of what happens when people really do come together,” Ho said. “It blew us all away.”

Featured image: From left, Winnie Ho ’19, Sahithi Kalvakota ’20, and Rose Ippolito ’20 had a table outside the Schwartz Performing Arts Center in Collegetown last week. (Provided Photo)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.