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Facebook fundraiser to reunite immigrant children separated from parents surpasses $10M

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States, rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP)

WASHINGTON (CIRCA) - What began as a California couple's attempt to send a virtual hug to young immigrant children being forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border has so far raised more than $10 million.

In recent weeks, jarring images of weeping children in the custody of U.S. Border Patrol agents have touched a nerve worldwide -- with Pope Francis calling the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy "immoral."

For Silicon Valley's Dave and Charlotte Willner, the viral picture of a 2-year-old Honduran girl captured by Getty Images photographer John Moore was a call to action. The couple, who have a 2-year-old daughter of their own, began a Facebook campaign Saturday that surpassed $10 million by Wednesday morning.

Dave Willner told The Mercury News, "It was the closest thing we could do to hugging that kid."

"These aren't kids we don't have to care about. They're like our kids," Charlotte Willner added. "When we look at the faces of these children, we can't help but see our own children's faces."

The Facebook fundraiser is called "Reunite an immigrant parent with their child" and benefits the San Antonio-based nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). The RAICES website was down Wednesday morning as a result of "higher than normal traffic," and a message on the page read, "... we are inspired by the outpouring of support at this important time."

More than 250,000 people have so far donated to the cause, quickly approaching the latest goal of $15 million (the initial goal was $1,500). Dave Willner told The Mercury News that at one point Monday, donations reached a rate of $3,000 per minute.

Charlotte Willmer told the San Jose, California, publication, "What’s been so encouraging is watching where the donations are coming in from. I’ve had so many conservatives, the very evangelical side of my life, being excited about this.”

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he would be "signing something" concerning his administration's immigration policy. "We want to solve this immigration problem."

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