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How one young woman is helping reunite immigrant families—and what you can do to help

How one young woman is helping reunite immigrant families—and what you can do to help
[Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images]

Zoë Van Tieghem isn’t a lawyer—and she doesn’t play one on TV (yet). She’s a theater major at the New School who is spending her summer as a superhero.

Like many of us, Van Tieghem was horrified to hear about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents. Unlike most people, though, Van Tieghem didn’t just donate money to the group’s fighting the policy, she leapt into action. She had a playwright friend working with a few other women (writers, theater people) who had gotten together to bail out Yeni Gonzalez, after hearing her story on a New York public radio segment. “I reached out and asked them how I could help,” explains Van Tieghem. “What they needed was someone to field emails, so that’s what I started doing.”

By poring over emails and reaching out to volunteers, Van Tieghem helped IFT arrange a network of drivers to reunite Gonzalez with her children, becoming the first in a line of mothers the group was able to help. Van Tieghem now serves as the outreach coordinator for Immigrant Families Together (IFT), the newly established grassroots organization founded by that initial group of volunteers, dedicated to reuniting immigrant mothers with their children. “We just saw something that needed to be fixed and tried to do it,” says Van Tieghem.

Although President Trump signed an executive order on June 20 calling for the end of the child separation policy, there is still no effective reunification plan or process in place for the families already been affected by the policy. That has left many mothers stuck in detention without the means to pay their bail bonds so they can leave ICE custody and find their children. That’s where IFT comes in: They raise money to pay the mothers’ bonds and be reunited with their children. They also organize transportation from the detention center to wherever the children have been taken (frequently several states away from their parents), helping with accommodation and travel expenses, and working with local resources and government organizations to help expedite the custody process while awaiting trial.

The organization is powered by the internet. They brainstorm and problem solve via WhatsApp and raise money through GoFundMe to pay for the bonds. The group runs entirely on donations. “We raise the bond money through GoFundMe and then have sustaining funds for each woman, too, for transport and housing until they can work, which will not be for awhile,” says Van Tieghem (who is the niece of Fast Company contributing editor Jay Woodruff). The family separation policy has proved so unpopular that people are eager to help these parents find their kids, foisting money on group’s like RAICES, who was the beneficiary of a viral Facebook campaign that raised nearly $20 million in less than one week. IFT is doing the same good work, but on a shoestring budget.

Want to help? Of course you do. As of Thursday evening, the Trump administration missed its deadline to reunite all eligible families with children over five. Only 1,442 of the 2,551 kids over five who were ripped from their parents under the cruel policy have been reunited with their parents meaning there is plenty of work to be done. Donate here and help women like Floridalma, Norma, and Amalia get out of detention and finally be reunited with their children.

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