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Immigration Services at the Library: A New Approach to Pathways to Citizenship

by on November 16, 2015

The function of libraries and librarians is constantly changing. We have moved from organizations that served as repositories for information to places where creation of information and hands-on training take shape. An example of this might be if someone were to ask for information about services, such as job search skills or health insurance, we would be able to not only refer that individual to relevant resources, but also incorporate workshops into library programming. But what about immigration services? Some libraries are following this model of librarianship by training staff members to provide legal services regarding citizenship and naturalization.

A recent article in American Libraries Magazine provided details about libraries that have boosted their services to immigrant and refugee populations. Through the Department of Justice, the Board of Immigration Appeals Recognition and Accreditation permits training to non-lawyers of nonprofit organizations “to legally represent immigrants.” The training is intense, lasting several months, and libraries can go for partial or full accreditation, which adjusts duties to filling out US Citizenship and Immigration Services forms to representing individuals before courts and Executive Office for Review. [1]

As the article mentions, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, many of whom no doubt use the library. If we are to extend services equitably to library users, many libraries may feel a duty to provide immigration services as well. In my experience as a librarian, I know that some residents who are not citizens are hesitant to obtain a library card or register for a library program; perhaps they are afraid that the library staff will investigate their background. Therefore, moving towards a model where library staff are knowledgeable and equipped to provide limited legal services to those seeking citizenship could be a healthy move toward building a trusting and open relationship with these library users. This will no doubt take time, patience, and proper facilitation.

My take on this service? While I think that this is an example of a timely and important service, I do want to remind the library profession that when we consider implementing new practices and models into the library, we must remember that we cannot be all things to all people. Yes, the needs of our communities are as diverse as its residents, but we also must recognize when it is appropriate for us to provide the services or to partner with an organization that can provide them more effectively. In this instance, many of the libraries feel that they cannot confidently refer library users to other local organizations due to fraudulent businesses and government offices that are inundated with requests. It is important for us to continually assess our community, the local services available, and what our role should be.

Read more at American Libraries Magazine: http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/librarians-as-immigration-lawyers/

[1] Dankowski, Terra. “Librarians as Immigration Lawyers | American Libraries Magazine.” American Libraries Magazine. 17 Sept. 2015. Web. 12 Oct. 2015. <http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/librarians-as-immigration-lawyers/>.

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