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Unequal Access in the Yellowhammer State

The last time I wrote about a library in Alabama, I was informed by numerous irate readers that Alabama is a wonderful state full of delightful people and that it “has made great changes since the ‘stand in the schoolhouse door.’”

Now that a federal judge has stopped part of the recent immigration law, teachers for the time being won’t have to stand in the schoolhouse door asking for birth certificates. So I guess there really have been lots of changes.

Since Alabama is such a paradise of tolerance and good will, I was very surprised to read this article: Library card requires proof of citizenship at North Shelby.

It discusses the discrepancy between the North Shelby Library’s dedication to serving all the people who live or work in North Shelby and the reality now that illegal immigrants – who apparently pick most of the crops in Alabama – are enemy number one.

Serving all the residents and workers in an area is pretty typical for public libraries, and a very nice thing, too. It also complies with the ALA’s longstanding position on equity of access to information. Equal access to information is also a good thing.

Equal access to information isn’t the library’s policy anymore, though. From the article:

Until the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, or HB56, went into effect Sept. 1, anyone who lived in the district could get a library card simply by showing a picture identification with proof of residency, such as a driver’s license or utility bill. People who work in Shelby County can bring in a paycheck stub, for example. Those who do not live in the county can pay a $30 annual fee.

All of those categories are still available but now all new patrons must present proof of legal residency as well.

Apparently, this is because “a library card is considered a contract between an individual and the library” and the “new law requires businesses to be certain that the individual is in the United States legally, through a valid driver license or nondriver ID card, a valid passport or an unexpired visa.”

All you librarians who think libraries should act more like businesses, I hope you’re happy!

To be fair, people without proof of legal residency can still enter the library and use the library’s resources onsite.

How likely that will be given that the new Alabama law “requires a law enforcement officer to make a reasonable attempt, when practicable, to determine the citizenship and immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested when reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

I have no idea what a “reasonable suspicion” about that would be, but the good thing is it’s wide open for interpretation by the police, who can pretty much stop anyone they please and ask for identification.

So while the library allows everyone, card and non-card holder alike, to use the library and even use the public computers, the law would probably keep illegal and a lot of legal immigrants away from such public places, lest they be harassed by police yelling “Papieren! Schnell!” at anyone who doesn’t look sufficiently “American.”

The new barrier to access that the library implemented makes it clear enough to immigrants that they’re not welcome at the library or any other public place. If you have a stable, proven address and still can’t get a library card, they library isn’t the place for you.

The radical bits of the ALA Council are always looking for something to protest. This violation of a core library value would seem like an appropriate thing. Or maybe those librarians occupying Wall Street could go occupy North Shelby as well.

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Comments

  1. Erin White says:

    Nicely put. I hope to see librarians in Alabama standing up against this issue, which is yet another ridiculous effect of the xenophobic, backwards Beason law. The law also prohibits non-citizens from being able to drive, secure utilities for their homes, or register their kids for school (another facet of the law that should incense librarians). The “reasonable suspicion” part is icing on the cake. As an expat Alabamian, I love my state, but I am furious that we have not learned from history. Hoping this and other heinous laws like it in Arizona and Georgia die quick, painful deaths.

  2. Nothing new under the sun says:

    As appalled as I am by the library policy, the comments following the news post are chilling. “they are Invaders and need to be removed.” “They cant read anyhow so why would they need books?” “That’ll cut down on their expenditures for their Spanish language catalog.”

    People seem to forget that all newcomers are perceived as a threat, until they assimilate, as shown in the following text from Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute:

    “There was very deep prejudice against Irish-Americans during the 19th century, especially as more immigrants came into the United States. Many Americans considered the Irish as dirty, stupid and lazy. …

    Americans also blamed the Irish immigrants for causing economic problems. They felt that the great numbers of Irish workers would put Americans out of work or lower wages. Americans felt that the increased number of people would mean taxes would rise due to additional needs for police, fire, health, sanitation, schools and poorhouses.”

    http://yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1990/5/90.05.07.x.html

  3. spencer says:

    Open borders!

    Seriously, I hate passports. I know that’s a different subject.

    I bet if you ask these people what they’d do if they went to europe and wanted access to a library but he library made them present their work visa along on top of everything else they’d have to have they would cry about it. Ok, maybe not cry, but complain.

    These peoples pay local taxes- or rent from people who do. They are, at that level, tax paying citizens as far as local government is concerned. They should be given access to local government services.

  4. LibraryGuy says:

    Wow. This looks like a great opportunity for libraries to fight the “Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act” in the name of intellectual freedom. It’ll piss off the Tea Partyers, but it’ll garner some nice publicity.

  5. thelibrarina says:

    Let’s be honest–in these situations, “reasonable suspicion” means “being brown.”

    “We are just going to go with the flow,” the board president says in the article. Frankly, I can’t think of a less responsible way to run a library.

  6. JRobichaud says:

    Could have been a stone cold calculated move on the part of the Shelby County Library system. Chances that this could open up the library to lawsuits that could eventually be used to shoot down certain provisions of the law?

    Also, you said, “they library isn’t the place for you.” Not sure what you intended.

  7. Techserving You says:

    Just a question… how does a valid drivers license show that someone is in the US legally? You do not need to show proof of citizenship when you apply for a drivers license. (Or, at least that has been the case until now… meaning millions of illegals likely already have licenses not set to expire any time soon.)

  8. Techserving You says:

    Just a question… how does a valid drivers license show that someone is in the US legally? You do not need to show proof of citizenship when you apply for a drivers license. (Or, at least that has been the case until now… meaning millions of illegals likely already have licenses not set to expire any time soon.)

    In response to Spencer… well… MORE libraries in Europe than in the US already do not even allow access (let alone borrowing privileges) to non-members. It’s not like they are paragons of access. Others are just like the ones about which the AL writes… they allow access to everyone, but not borrowing privileges. If these librarians went to Europe and visited an open library, no, they wouldn’t be required to show work papers… but, if they wanted to apply for borrowing privileges, that could be a whole other issue. How do you know that some don’t require that? There are many other western countries with much stricter immigration laws than the US. You’re also basing an assertion on a BIG, possibly false, assumption about these librarians… and it’s the kind of baseless assertion a lot of people make to try to prove their points, but since it is baseless, it doesn’t prove anything. You don’t know that these librarians would think ANYTHING of having to show proof of citizenship if they wanted to borrow from a European library. You don’t know that they would be annoyed, or complain. You are assuming hypocrisy which hasn’t been demonstrated. I’m not in favor of this library system’s move (though also not vehemently against it… I’d need to look at the motivations more carefully) but you know what happens when you assume.

  9. Techserving You says:

    Whoops, I got an error the first time I submitted my comment.

  10. Ashley Meinders says:

    There is definitely an important distinction to be made here as to whether the library constitutes a “business” which is such subject to the law holding businesses responsible for obtaining adequate proof of their status in the US. It would seem that if the legislature wrote into law the fact that students are barred from public schools, the library, as another public space, would be exempt unless specifically required to comply by the law.

    Also, Erin, you are absolutely right and I would say most people agree that the vague language of “reasonable suspicion” is basically ensuring a continuance of racial profiling in law enforcement and creates a hostile environment for many legal and illegal persons living in the state. It has led to a major exodus of both, causing undue strain on already-struggling communities.

    I would agree that this is something that libraries in AL should be making a stand on.

  11. Didi says:

    In the Commonwealth of Virginia, you do have to prove citizenship now before a drivers license will be issued. I’m not sure how they handle it when you’re just there to renew an already existing license. But for a new license or to replace an expired license, proof of citizenship is required.

  12. PW says:

    Utah also requires proof of citizenship for a driver license. (Not a typo.) I had to show my birth certificate for the last renewal, despite having had a valid Utah license for many years. The rationale given is that the requirement is to comply with federal law.

    It’s hard to know if legislators really thought federal law required proof of citizenship or were making a statement about either federal laws or illegal immigration. Citizens generally seem to think it’s both wrong and stupid. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that law will change any time soon.

  13. A different opinion says:

    Just because I am a devil’s advocate:

    Has anyone ever considered that these arguably reactive measures are maybe NOT racism? We tend to throw that out there a lot. It’s sort of an unfair tactic to assume that if someone doesn’t want undocumented people in thier neighborhood it must be because of their skin color. Personally I’m annoyed at all the residents that get out of paying taxes because of their undocumented status.
    Although I do not see these laws in Alabama as being effective…I can understand that they are a part of a larger issue. Xenophobia may have a play here but there is a practical side to this. I don’t think it’s appropriate to drown a discussion of the issue with accusations of racism.

    • Questioner says:

      “Although I do not see these laws in Alabama as being effective..”
      I thought that there were a lot of news stories as people were leaving the state due to the new law. Doesn’t that demonstrate the effect that the law was intended for? I’m not saying that the law is just or moral, just that it probably did have the intended effect.

  14. MHS says:

    Theoretically that may be true, but there are huge communities of illegal Irish immigrants in New York, and no one is targeting these type of measures at them. When is seems to consistenly play out that the strongest negative reactions are always directed at the non-European immigrant groups, it’s hard to deny that racism is a strong motivating factor.

    • Questioned says:

      “There are huge communities of illegal Irish immigrants in New York, and no one is targeting these type of measures at them.”

      Wow – - how “huge” are the communities? 11 million?

  15. CB says:

    Yikes, it seems Alabama is becoming an unpleasant place to be. Yes, many people are frustrated with illegal immigrants, but one would hope that human rights are also observed. Xenophobia and shutting the borders is a byproduct of these times, however, because with the global economy in dire straits, people are more insular and protective of local economies, services, taxes, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised such things happen in other areas because of all of this…

  16. Elena says:

    All good intentioned, I am sure. But its unequal treatment all round. The illegal Irish and Canadians don’t get hunted down, but anyone with a darker skin tone is pretty much dooomed.

    And, here’s your homework assignment: anyone have a copy of their birth certificate close by? Do you know in fact where you’ve filed it? I think mine is at my mother’s house, a few states away. I guess I would technically NOT be able to use my own public library because I didn’t have a copy…

  17. Erin DeLawn says:

    There is nothing wrong or racist in making it harder for people whom are in the U.S. illegally to function as if they are legal citizens regardless of where they are from.

    The people hurling names offer no solutions.

    They don’t want border enforcement or even a border. That is just stupid.

    They want no checks for proper immigration papers.

    They advocate that those that snuck into the nation without permission be given citizenship just because.

    Like it was pointed out, libraries make greater efforts to prevent you from checking out a book than some librarians want to prevent you from crossing the border without permission.