This event, held at the Westchester Library System Headquarters in Elmsford, NY, consisted of a panel discussion with Carola Bracco, executive director of an organization assisting immigrants in Westchester County called Neighbors Link; Karin Ponzer, the organization’s legal counsel; and Karen LaRocca-Fels, Director of the Ossining Public Library.
For an event of only 90 minutes, a lot of ground was covered. Much attention was given to challenges facing the library system in connection to the increase of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, in Westchester County. Aside from the language barrier, immigrants were reported to be hesitant to use the library services because they perceive the library as a government institution which might turn them in to ICE . Another source of worry is the few examples of hostility from the residents toward immigrants. As an example, prior to an event the WLA held in conjunction with the Ecuadorean Consulate, an anonymous phone call was made threatening to call ICE.
Before addressing more local issues, Karin Ponzer, the legal counsel for Neighbors Link, began with a overview of recent developments in national policy affecting immigrant communities. She noted that there is no constitutional right to stay in the United States unless one is a U.S citizen. This is as true with asylum seekers as it is with economic migrants. Supposedly in the interest of national security, benefits have become increasingly denied to immigrants. Ms. Pozner lamented that the Attorney General has been interfering with the judicial branch to rewrite law so as to extend the authority of the Federal Government. She concluded with remarking that current restrictions on immigrants are worse than they were after 9/11.
One of the primary issues discussed was the challenges surrounding immigrants obtaining library cards. Currently, one is required to provide a picture I.D, however many immigrants are not carrying photo IDs with them for fear of being stopped by ICE. One of the solutions offered was that immigrants could get Westchester County IDs for $18.00. This would necessitate going to the county clerk’s office, which some immigrants may be wary of doing. If was further suggested that libraries may be able to become qualified to give these IDs themselves. This would require a change in legislation at the local level, but it was indicated that this would not be exceedingly hard to do. The panelists emphasized how important it is for immigrants, irrespective of their status, to be able to use the library services. Libraries have been a reliable place for immigrants to gain information on the Immigration Protection Act and education in technology.
The panelists also suggested that a policy be introduced in the unlikely event ICE entered the library to apprehend anyone suspected of being undocumented. Ms. Ponzer reviewed some of the current ICE policies. At the moment, though it may change, ICE’s current policy is that it would not enter educational facilities (including libraries), funerals and weddings, and places of worship. Ms.Ponzer noted that the library is required to comply with the police because that is a matter of criminal law, however, because ICE operates under civil law, libraries have fewer obligations. ICE would need a judicial warrant before the library is legally bound to cooperate fully. In contrast, an administrative warrant, which is easily distinguishable by how it looks, is not legally binding.
This discussion reflects an issue of paramount importance for the information profession in general. David Bawden and Lyn Robinson, in their book Introduction to Information Science, state that the “main areas of concern within information ethics include…universal access, information poverty and the digital divide” (237). Ensuring that immigrants have access to the library is essential for addressing the issue of information poverty and providing universal access.