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While millions of people celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, Jorge Garcia was saying goodbye to his family. His wife, Cindy, and two children sobbed as they hugged their father, their cries echoing through the international terminal at the Detroit airport.
A man who had lived nearly 30 years in the United States was being deported, with an agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at his side.
Cindy's pain was not just emotional. With Jorge being sent thousands of miles away and unable to support the family, she would have to take the lead on the economic front.
“I have to pay the rent, electricity, telephone and gas bills, plus food, gas, car payments . All that with just one income. I have to do the impossible,” she said recently from her home in Michigan.
Cindy and Jorge had already launched a donations campaign on GoFundMe, a crowdfunding platform, asking for $10,000. They planned to use the money to pay a lawyer who was seeking options for Jorge to return to the United States legally.
The farewell at the airport was widely covered by the news media, and people from around the United States have already donated more than $58,000 to the family.
Cindy's case is not unique. As immigrant detentions increase under the Trump administration, thousands of people are turning to crowdfunding as a way to afford the astronomical costs of deportation. In 2017, deportations increased by 37% over 2016 numbers.
Last year, GoFundMe saw a 100% increase in donations to campaigns related to deportations.
A search for the word “deportation” on sites like GoFundMe and YouCaring brings up hundreds of petitions for immigrants, made by their families and friends. Some, like Cindy, reach their goal. Others like are left waiting.
With a one-way ticket and a deportation order in hand, 30-year-old Vicky Chavez decided to seek refuge in a church the very night she was supposed to leave the country. She knew the risks of returning to Honduras with her two daughters, aged six and four months. Chavez had left her country three years ago after a violent relationship.
Now living in a room in the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, Vicky faced the challenge of taking care of her daughters without a job. A group of activists helped her launch a donations campaign on YouCaring, setting their goal at $5,000 for her legal fees. She's collected $3,200 so far.
The YouCaring portal reported an increase of 117% last year in the number of campaigns linked to immigration, according to data provided to Univision News.
The increase was most visible in September, when the Trump administration announced it was ending DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – and gave the so-called Dreamers one month to apply for extensions. In a week, YouCaring saw the number of campaigns related to immigration issues rise 75%.
We believe this happened "most likely thanks to the elevated profile of this particular cause in the news cycle and a heightened sense of urgency around it," said Austin Kapur, communications director at YouCaring.
For those to decide to seek refuge, like Vicky, and those who fight their deportations from their home countries, like Jorge, the road is mined with high fees for lawyers and other legal expenses.
“You start by having to post a bond to have the person released,” said Michelle Sardone, director of strategic initiatives at CLINIC, a nationwide network for immigration counseling backed by the Catholic Church. “The amount often starts at $5,000 and goes up from there.”
After being released from a detention center, where immigrants can spend months, they then have to attempt to change their immigration status – changes that can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, Sardone adds.
Then come the lawyers' fees, which depend on how much an attorney charges per hour and how many times an immigrant has to go to court. Complex cases also may require immigrants to pay for experts or translators.
“Everything is money, money, money when you're dealing with immigration,” said Cindy. Her family spent nearly $25,000 from 2005 to 2011 to attempt to legalize her husband's immigration status.
Deportations often leave a financial hole behind in a family.
A study by the Center for Migration Studies concluded that the median income of undocumented families is $41,000 per year. When a father is deported, the family members who remain can see their income drop by up to 90%.
That forces many families to give up their homes and send their children to live with relatives.
“Overnight, families have to face a completely different economic situation,” said Gabriela Domenzain, director of the Latin Policy Institute at the Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.
But while they may be a generous gesture, Easton Smith, an activist with the pro-immigrant Solidarity Network in Utah, said the increase in crowdfunding requests does not get to the heart of the issue.
“This problem highlights the fact that these people are not being allowed to work,” said Smith, whose group helped Sanchez launch her crowdfunding campaign.
Immigrants “cannot generate the income required for their needs,” he said. “It's like believing that a glass of water can fill a pool.”