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Immigrant rights groups find Trump is their best fundraiser

Trump doubles down on immigration
Trump threatens to permanently shut down border 07:52

Like many charitable organizations, immigrants' rights groups were bracing for a dip in contributions this year under the GOP's new tax law. To their relief, however, they say they're seeing a spike in charitable giving -- as high as a 25-fold increase in some cases -- as they push back against President Donald Trump's hard-line immigration policies.

It seems that Mr. Trump -- through his unforgiving rhetoric and actions -- may be inspiring more donations to organizations that oppose his immigration agenda. For instance, on the heels of #GivingTuesday, The Safe Passage Project, which provides attorneys to immigrant children facing deportation proceedings, is on track to soar past previous years' fundraising records.

"From a donor perspective, there has been tremendous new attention paid to The Safe Passage Project, and I think it's partly because immigration is on the front pages. Many more people know how important this work is," Executive Director Rich Leimsider told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Indeed, nearly every day's news has highlighted the Trump administration's hard-line immigration policies, from family separations to the Border Patrol's use of tear gas on civilians -- including women and children -- at the southern U.S. border.

New lawyers and more clients

Leimsider noted that donations skyrocketed in June and July, at the height of the family separation crisis.

"Typically in June or July we would raise $5,000 to $10,000 in small checks. In 2018 we raised $250,000. That means we hired two new lawyers and can take on 150 extra clients," he said.

The organization is on track to record its biggest fundraising year ever, notching 60 percent more donations in 2018 from a year earlier. It received 50 percent more donations in 2016 compared to 2015.

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President Wendy Young of Kids in Need of Defense, which recruits and trains lawyers to represent unaccompanied children who arrive alone at the border, said spikes in donations to KIND correlate closely with social and political activity. Donations surged in 2014, when an influx of migrant children arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico. Donations reached even higher levels in June and July of this year.

"It was within a matter of hours after the news of family separation hitting that we saw a spike," she said. "And with the media attention over the summer, the contributions just kept coming in."

KIND saw rising engagement at all levels, including gifts from children who had organized lemonade stands to support the cause. The group raised more than $2.6 million from June to October, compared to the $100,000 it received from January to May.

"I think the generosity of Americans really is a tremendous counterpoint to the harshness of the policies that the administration has implemented," Young said.

Most successful #Giving Tuesday ever

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed more than 50 immigrants' rights lawsuits against the Trump administration, recorded its most successful #GivingTuesday in years. That wasn't just the case just for the ACLU. This year's day for charitable giving was the biggest ever, raking in nearly $400 million in donations online in the U.S. alone, according to the 92nd Street Y.

"Ever since Trump was elected, our fundraising has gone way up," said ACLU Chief Development Officer Mark Weir. "It has doubled, and I do think that's driven by our immigrants' rights work especially." He noted that the ACLU raised  $6 million online just in June -- more than three times what it usually brings in during that time period.

Still, not all organizations were as fortunate. Khary Lazarre-White, executive director of the Brotherhood-Sister Sol, noticed a decrease in donations on this year's #GivingTuesday.

He gave a two-part rationale for the giving gap.

"I think it's representative of the change in the tax law. But I think it's also because we're focused on local immigration issues, and the policies coming out of Washington, D.C. have turned the focus to giving on a national level to organizations that are pushing back against federal policy," he said.

Changes in the new tax law include an increase in the standard deduction, which reduces the number of filers claiming itemized deductions -- one of which is for charitable donations. That could reduce gifts by 5 percent this year, according to the Tax Policy Center.

"The smaller donations are coming in at a slower rate, and it's something we have felt throughout the year," Lazarre said. "I think in times like this, you deeply engage with existing supporters who are connected to the mission. It's kind of a time when you circle the wagons."

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