February 17, 2018

VA Counties Target Illegal Immigrants; Libraries May Be Put in a Bind

By Jennifer Pinkowski

Librarians in two northern Virginia counties may soon be put in the awkward position of having to check immigration status along with library cards. In mid-July, Prince William and Loudoun counties, just outside of Washington, DC, passed a resolution banning illegal immigrants from a host of public services, including schools, parks, hospitals, and libraries. (Immigration rates doubled between 2000 and 2005 in those counties.)
Libraries were instructed to report back to county officials this fall on how they service the public. They then will receive guidance. “Until the board of supervisors gets back to us, we don’t know what we will do,” Linda Wieland, secretary to Prince William County Public Library director Dick Murphy, told Library Journal. [Updated] Douglas Henderson, director of the Loudoun County Public Library, commented to LJ‘s Talkback (below) that no decision has been made by the county Supervisors, and the library maintains free and open access. “When all is said and done, I believe common sense will prevail.”
Asking librarians to deny services based on immigration status violates the American Library Association (ALA) Bill of Rights, ALA president Loriene Roy reminded Library Journal. Most U.S. libraries include the guidelines in staff or policy literature (as does Prince William County; LJ was unable to confirm by press time whether Loudoun does). Article V states, “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.” In January, the ALA Council also passed the Resolution in Support of Immigrant Rights, which declares the organization’s opposition to legislation that seeks to limit anyone’s access to libraries, regardless of citizenship status.
While immigration policy remains unresolved at the federal level, states and municipalities have taken their own steps against illegal immigration. This year alone, more than 1000 bills targeting immigration have been introduced in state legislatures, according to the Washington Post, and some 90 communities have enacted restrictions. (Roy said she was unaware of libraries in any of these communities seeking help from ALA.) However, only federal lawmakers can create immigration law, a reason cited by a federal court on July 26 in its decision to strike down the anti-illegal immigration policies of Hazleton, PA, which were widely considered some of the most severe in the nation.
For libraries caught between their professional ethos and backlash legislation, several resources can be found at the web site of REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking), an affiliate of the ALA. These include the Librarian’s Toolkit for Responding Effectively to Anti-Immigrant Sentiment, which offers both fundamental arguments for libraries being accessible to all and practical tips on the variety of acceptable residency identifications.
Laws like those in Prince William and Loudoun counties “are simply bad,” said REFORMA president Mario Ascencio, himself a DC-area resident. “If I were to walk into one of the libraries in Prince William County to use their resources…would they require me to prove my residency or prove that I work for the state as a George Mason University librarian? These laws not only create more bureaucracy, but organizations are left without the resources to train their staff,” he told LJ. “You get public employees…acting as INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] inspectors without the training.”

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