The plight of hundreds of migrant children made headlines this week when reports surfaced outlining the harsh living conditions they face at Border Patrol facilities in Texas, including inadequate nutrition and supervision.
There's been a spike in the number of unauthorized migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border since the start of the year, especially families and unaccompanied children, which has overwhelmed the agencies involved.
In recent weeks, the U.S. Border Patrol reported having about 2,000 unaccompanied minors in its custody at any given time. And while children should only be in custody for up to three days before being transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services, that process is taking much longer.
In an interview with the Associated Press, lawyers who had visited one facility on the Texas border reported that "kids were taking care of kids" and there was "inadequate food, water and sanitation." At least seven children have died in immigration custody in the past year. The situation has led to public outrage. Wayfair employees even staged a walkout Wednesday after they discovered the company sold children's beds and mattresses to a Texas detention camp.
Meanwhile, the government agencies in charge of immigration operations, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services, say they don't have the funding to properly handle the current influx of migrants.
On Tuesday night, the House passed a $4.5 billion emergency spending bill to provide aid to the southern border. The legislation included language that would require the Customs and Border Protection (the agency which runs Border Patrol) to establish health and safety standards for migrant individuals in its care.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed its own $4.6 billion version on Wednesday, so lawmakers now will have to reconcile the two versions before the Congressional recess starts on July 4. The White House said Monday it opposed the House legislation, setting up a potential veto situation.
While Congress is working through the situation, organizations across the U.S. have stepped in to provide support to these families and have raised millions for legal help and supplies.
Here's what you need to know if you choose to support these organizations.
There are hundreds of organizations working to help immigrants, many of which are local charities and nonprofits.
If you're not quite sure where to donate, ActBlue has set up a couple of donation portals to help kids at the border and families separated and detained. Your donation will be split between roughly a dozen organizations all at once.
Keep in mind that it's better to donate money than physical items such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. In fact, the Texas Tribune reported this week that a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facility near El Paso turned away donations of food, sanitary supplies, diapers and toys.
If you're interested in donating to a single organization, here are a few of the leading non-profits involved in immigration issues.
The American Civil Liberties Union is focused on defending the rights of immigrant families. The organization, along with United We Dream, Mijente and Immigrant Justice Corps, is helping to coordinate advocacy and legal immigration services at a national level.
Since the Trump administration implemented its "zero tolerance" policy, the ACLU has filed several class action lawsuits challenging the government's practice of separating families and forcing those seeking asylum out of the country.
Keep in mind that the ACLU is not a charity, so any donation will not be tax-deductible. However, the organization does have a foundation arm — which receives top marks from Charity Navigator — and your donation to the foundation could help reduce your taxable income.
Border Angles advocates for humane immigration. Through a network of volunteers, the organization provides dozens of water jugs along "high-traffic migrant paths" in the desert, according to its website. Additionally, the group provides free and low-cost legal aid in English and Spanish every week at the San Diego-based Sherman Height Community Center.
The organization is too small for a rating through Charity Navigator.
The Florence Project
A legal aid organization, the Florence Project, provides free legal services to detained immigrants in Arizona. An estimated 86% of those detained have no legal representation while going through immigration removal proceedings, the organization says.
In addition to donations, the Florence Project also accepts volunteers. If you live in Arizona, you can help out directly as a translator, researcher or pro bono attorney if you're qualified.
The organization receives a three-star rating from Charity Navigator (out of a possible four stars).
Freedom for Immigrants
This is an advocacy organization that set up an immigration detention visitation program at 42 detention centers around the country and a national hotline. Volunteers with Freedom for Immigrants take between 600 to 14,500 calls per month from those in detention, or their loved ones, to report abuse.
The organization also manages a national detention bond fund, which provides funds to detained immigrants in need for cash bonds so they can be released while fighting their immigration cases.
Freedom for Immigrants (formerly Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement) is currently too small to be rated by Charity Navigator.
Kids in Need of Defense works to provide high quality, pro bono legal representation to children who enter the immigration system alone. The organization interviews migrant children and matches them with specially trained attorneys. Additionally, KIND provides ongoing support throughout the immigration process, including medical and social services.
Earlier this month, KIND partnered with humanitarian aid nonprofit HIAS to "provide representation to forcibly separated immigrant and refugee families who have come to the United States seeking safety," according to a press release.
Created last year, the mission of Project Corazon's travel fund is to send lawyers to detention centers to help protect the rights of immigrants and their families. Through this organization, which is run by the Lawyers for Good Government Foundation, you can donate your airline miles to help fly pro bono attorneys to where they're needed. So far, the fund has sent 37 lawyers to detention centers and refugee camps.
This organization is not rated by Charity Navigator because it does not have seven years of full IRS Forms 990, but GuideStar gives it a bronze rating.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services is a nonprofit focused on "providing free and low-cost legal services to under-served immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas," according to the organization's website.
The nonprofit, which currently has about 50 lawyers on staff, got a lot of attention last summer when Charlotte and Dave Willner set up a Facebook fundraiser that raised over $10 million in just four days. Since then, RAICES has fielded several lawsuits and complaints on behalf of families who have suffered separation and detainment.
The organization currently has a three-star rating from Charity Navigator (out of a possible four stars), but received a platinum seal of transparency from charity watchdog GuideStar.
The current immigration crisis is not strictly limited to the southern border. Several organizations work with detention centers around the country to provide support, and El Refugio is one of them. The organization specifically works with the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, coordinating volunteer visits to immigrants detained at the center and running a hospitality house that offers meals and lodging at no cost.
The charity is too small to be rated by Charity Navigator, but it does receive a bronze rating from GuideStar.
Save the Children
Save the Children is working to deliver immediate humanitarian aid to migrant children and families. The organization is working with local partners to ensure that children and families have necessities such as hygiene kits, diapers and clothing.
Save the Children is also running a "Child Friendly Spaces" and children's play areas at transit shelters in New Mexico for children once they leave the detention facilities, a spokeswoman tells CNBC Make It.
The organization has an A- grade from CharityWatch.
Texas Civil Rights Project
The TCRP is working to help get legal advice and translation services to families detained at the U.S. border. The organization also works to interview families to document what is happening to ensure they are reunited as quickly as possible.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg created a fundraiser last year that generated over $85,000 for the TCRP. The organization has four stars, the highest possible rating from Charity Navigator.
The easiest way to verify a charity's legitimacy is to look it up on a watchdog site such as Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Great Nonprofits. These sites rate nonprofits and allow you to find out more about the organization and how donations are spent.
"We always recommend doing your research," Larry Lieberman, chief operating officer of Charity Navigator, told CNBC Make It. His site's ratings are based off two main components: the financial health of the non-profit and accountability and transparency with which they handle funds.
Many of the groups who are responding to the border and immigration crisis are small, so they may not be rated. If that's the case, you can usually find information on their website about their effectiveness and how funds are used. If you can't find it on the website, you can check the charity's tax return, also known as Form 990. These can be found on GuideStar and will give you information on how much the charity brings in and how the money is spent.
Prioritize organizations that limit processing fees, Lieberman says. "Giving directly through the organization's website is the best way to get the money to the charity directly," he adds. That's because some third-party payment processors will charge the charity fees and donation platform costs. PayPal, for example, charges a fixed fee of $0.30, plus 2.2% per transaction.
When donating to a campaign on GoFundMe and other crowdfunding options, you should have a clear understanding of where the donations are going and what the money will be used for. "Take a look at who is collecting the funds," Lieberman says. "If the person running the campaign is someone who works directly for the organization or with the organization or is someone you know or a friend knows, then you can donate more confidently knowing that someone isn't taking advantage of your generosity."
GoFundMe has a team that works to verify each campaign and ensure the funds get to the intended recipient. If the funds are not delivered, GoFundMe offers a donor protection guarantee.
You can also get in contact with an organization directly, but check to make sure that they can verify where your donation is going. "Reach out to the organization both before giving and after giving to understand the charity's needs, goals, and accomplishments," Lieberman says.
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