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Library on the Border Acts as Haven for Immigrant Families

by on December 10, 2018

For immigrants affected by the Trump administration’s so-called Muslim travel ban and its related extreme vetting, it may seem as though there are not many safe places to gather. Fear of being detained or fear of not being able to return to the U.S. has prevented many immigrants from leaving the country. The fear of being detained has also prevented many families from visiting loved ones. A cursory examination of the last two presidencies shows that “…the last decade has seen big changes in immigration policy and policing. For immigrants and refugees, having good partners to navigate these changing dynamics is important.”1 Public libraries are once again at the forefront sharing insights on their best practices for serving immigrant and refugee communities.

One public library offers a safe space for immigrant families to gather. The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the U.S. – Canada border, has become a safe haven and a commons for immigrants. The library is judgment-free and is a neutral area where immigrants do not need to fear the travel ban. Families from the U.S. and Canada meet in the confines of the library and share the loving moments that the travel ban has severely limited. Although somewhat nontraditional, memories amongst family members can be still created. In an interview with Reuters, former library board member Susan Grantors said, “You don’t need your passport. You park on your side, I’ll park on my side, but we’re all going to walk in the same door.”2

But the library’s success has not come without scrutiny. According to the Reuters article, Iranian families who have used the Haskell Free Library as a place to come together have reported that U.S. border officers have at times detained them for several hours, tried to bar them from entering the library, told them they shouldn’t be visiting each other there, or said they should limit their visits to just a few minutes. Reuters further reports that a library staff members has said that American and Canadian officials have threatened to shut the library over the visits.3 According to the Reuters story, Erique Gasse, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s federal law enforcement agency, denied that the agency had threatened to shut the library down. “This is not the way we talk,” he said. “We don’t do that.”The Trump administration has repeatedly stated that the travel ban is in the best interest of our country and is necessary to protect the United States.

Other libraries across the country, specifically those located on our nation’s borders to the north and south, have become successful hubs of information for immigrants who feel they have nowhere else to turn. Affirming the Library Bill of Rights, which states that “a person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views,” is of the utmost importance for public libraries across the country. Travel ban or not, public libraries will always be a safe space for those who have been marginalized or excluded elsewhere.  We should applaud the efforts of The Haskell Free Library, and others, for standing up for what is right and for challenging the Trump administration’s implication that immigrants are dangerous to the safety of the United States.

  1. Carlton, Amy. “Serving Immigrants and Refugees in Public Libraries.” American Libraries Magazine, June 24, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2018. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/serving-immigrants-refugees-public-libraries/
  2. Torbati, Yeganeh. “Separated by Travel Ban, Iranian Families Reunite at Border Library.” Reuters. November 28, 2018. Accessed December 10, 2018.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.