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Pro-Trumpers turn to GoFundMe to build border wall

September 21, 2018

Fed up with the slow pace of progress in building President Trump’s border wall, some enterprising citizens have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Dozens of people have launched GoFundMe accounts to raise money that they say they will make sure is used to push the president’s plans for his “great, beautiful wall.”

Not to be outdone, illegal immigrant “Dreamers” have also turned to “crowdfunding” to raise money, asking for donations to pay their fees as they rush to apply for renewed status under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that keeps them from being deported.

Americans have opened their wallets, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than 600 pro-immigrant campaigns as they look for ways to become personally involved in the immigration debate.

“This is certainly a way they can do that, and it makes a big difference to these people,” said Peter Boogaard, communications director at FWD.us, a pro-immigration advocacy group founded by tech executives that is working with GoFundMe to highlight the DACA campaigns. “They’re not asking for huge amounts of money. They’re asking for a little bit of support to make their ability to renew their applications a little easier.”

Dreamers aren’t alone.

Other illegal immigrants have gone online to ask for help in fighting their own deportations or to beg for cash to pursue green cards signifying permanent legal status, or to fulfill other plans.

One craft company sought to raise $4,626 on Kickstarter to make cards praising DACA recipients, also known as “Dreamers.” That campaign fell well short of its goal.

But Maribel Serrano, a DACA recipient, raised more than $10,000 on Indiegogo to produce a film about her first return to her Mexican hometown.

Like so much else in the modern world, political campaigners are increasingly going digital to pursue their causes and to raise the finances that their activism requires.

Just this week, supporters of Christine Blasey Ford, the women whose allegations of an attempted sexual assault more than 35 years ago have threatened to upend Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s path to the Supreme Court, turned to GoFundMe to raise money to help her with security and legal fees.

As of Thursday evening, more than $330,000 had been raised across four campaigns.

For many of the campaigns, the key seems to be to tug at the heartstrings and get friends to share links to the campaign across Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Juan de la Rosa, a DACA recipient from Virginia, asked for money so he and his sister could apply to renew their two-year permits.

“That’s why I am asking for some help from those who may have the resources to donate even a little. It will allow me to continue a new job in a field I am passionate about and it will allow my sister to continue her education,” he said.

He launched his campaign Aug. 5 and is asking for $1,000 enough to pay two DACA application fees, at $495 a pop. Within days, he had received two dozen pledges totaling $1,105.

“Hope this helps! Abolish ICE!” wrote Margaret Breslau, who pledged $50.

Mr. de la Rosa didn’t respond to an inquiry sent through his campaign page.

Neither did a half-dozen other DACA recipients or donors whom The Washington Times tried to reach through their GoFundMe profiles.

On the other side of the issue are the wall builders, who are frustrated that Congress has been slow to find the $20 billion in additional money it will take to finish the president’s plans.

More than 200 GoFundMe campaigns have sprung up asking Americans to personally chip in.

“The long and the short answer is we want the wall, we want this mission to go forward,” said Steve Sprague, who launched his campaign four weeks ago.

He set a goal of $100 million and had 13 donations totaling $743 as of Thursday.

That is one of the more successful campaigns.

On GoFundMe, financial requests for building the wall total more than $16 billion nearly the total the federal government says is needed to complete Mr. Trump’s plans but they have generated less than $10,000, a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the pro-DACA side has raised.

“I think that the left, in general, has done a very good of painting DACA recipients as not quite victims, but as the best and the brightest,” Mr. Sprague told The Times. “When you dig into the fact of what DACA is and you dig into the fact of how that system works, I think it becomes a little muddier.”

His pro-wall campaign has run into a couple of hiccups, including angry reaction from people who have seen the links he posted on Twitter.

“Now the entire world will know what a racist you are!” said one angry Twitter user.

Mr. Sprague said Twitter has since blacklisted his campaign, meaning he can no longer post links to it outside of his own page.

“So, yes, the bias against the right is very real,” he said.

Because he is a private citizen, he also had to figure out a way to make sure the money he raises can get to the Homeland Security Department. He said he can’t earmark it specifically for the wall, but the government does allow citizens to gift money to the department overall.

Mr. Sprague said asking for help online made sense: “You’re able to network with a lot of people in a quick amount of time. And it’s basically free.”

Crowdfunding analyst Gordon Burtch, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, said it’s not surprising that the DACA pleas are doing better. People are more likely to give when they are asked to donate to a specific person in need.

“You can see the difference here: that a call for a border wall is intended to benefit a large mass of individuals, the United States on the whole,” he said. “In contrast, fundraising for DACA fees for a specific individual or family stands to benefit a particularly small set of people who provide a more concrete target of benefit for a donor.”

He said the target audience for crowdfunding is skewed toward younger college graduates who are generally more left-leaning and perhaps more open to an appeal on behalf of migrants than to back up one of Mr. Trump’s signature campaign items.

The wall builders have tried crowdfunding before.

More than a decade ago, during a previous immigration debate and before the Bush-era round of fence-building, a group of Southwestern residents who called themselves the Minuteman Project sought to raise money to erect a wall on a private ranch in the borderlands in Arizona.

Like today’s GoFundMe campaigns, the Minuteman folks also struggled to raise the cash they were seeking.

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