Libraries around the country are stepping in to support immigrant families. Some are new arrivals, navigating the immigration system. Others have undocumented family members who are facing possible enforcement actions. Here, we offer some suggestions you can give your local library, so they can offer assistance to these families during an extremely vulnerable period of their lives.
The Needs of Young Immigrant Children
It has been found that undocumented immigrant families tend to isolate themselves in their homes, only venturing out for the most basic needs. This isolation, coupled with chronic anxiety, takes an enormous toll, particularly on young children. Not only are they living with the fear of separation from their parents, they are less likely to have access to early education programs.
Children who have been separated from their families, and are being held in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities, are in critical need of help and resources. This type of extreme stress and isolation has been found to have lifelong negative consequences.
Libraries as a Safe Space
We already think of libraries as centers for information and learning in our communities. Libraries can also play a critical role as a safe space for immigrant families.
If your local library is willing, here are ways that some libraries are becoming a trusted and consistent source of information and services for these families. Consider sharing these suggestions with your local library.
Adapt Library Programs & Offerings
- Display multilingual posters and signs that make it clear that immigrant families are welcome.
- Offer resources with information on immigration law, immigrant rights, and important phone numbers they can call for assistance.
- Increase bilingual book holdings. By offering books in families’ home language(s), libraries can offer them a break from their day-to-day anxieties, especially for their young children.
- Assemble bags with bilingual children’s books, activities and art supplies. Be sure to include items that promote an acceptance of diversity, have multicultural themes and include illustrations of ethnically diverse characters.
- Present story times in various languages.
- Offer newspapers in multiple languages.
- Accept alternative forms of identification to ensure access to the library, regardless of legal status.
- Hire staff members that speak the language(s) of the immigrant families.
Library Outreach Programs
Create an outreach program, either in conjunction with an organization that supports detained children, or by working directly with a children’s detention center. The latter may require multiple attempts to make contact with someone who will work with library staff.
One organization helping children and families in CBP facilities, and shelters on both sides of the border, is Children in Crisis, a project of REFORMA (a national network of library organizations).
Does your local library offer assistance for immigrant families? Comment and let us know in what ways they are helping.
“Immigration Reform Sign on 4th Street” by Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr is licensed under CC BY 2.0