REFORMA Children in Crisis Project: Librarians bringing hope to unaccompanied children

By Loida Garcia-Febo, International Library Consultant, CPDWL Consultant, ALA President 2018-2019

Librarians are bravely going above and beyond to bring books and hope to unaccompanied children kept in custody in the U.S. after crossing the border into the country. Children as young as toddlers are separated from their parents and spend long periods of time by themselves waiting to be assigned a sponsor.

For years, the Children in Crisis Project from REFORMA, The National Library Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, has worked extremely hard to bring hope to unaccompanied children in custody.

As per a Fact Sheet from the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) in the U.S., an operational division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reported that there were about 820 unaccompanied children in HHS care on August 11, 2020. This agency defines unaccompanied children as “a child who has no lawful immigration status in the United States; has not attained 18 years of age; and, with respect to whom, there is no parent or legal guardian in the United States, or no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.” Tragically, according to their most recent data from June 2020, the average time children spend in custody is 193 days.

Patrick Sullivan, one of the Children in Crisis Task Force Co-Chair along with Oralia Garza de Córtes, shared with me that the group continues working to bring books to the children in the shelters and those awaiting their case reviews at the border in Matamoros and Tijuana.  Due to complex processes, it can take a long time to bring the books to children at the centers. For instance, it has been slower with the closing of the border and lower numbers of children in the shelters, but the librarians are still receiving donations of funds and books when things do open up. Ady Huertas, a librarian very active within the group, continues to work with Southwest Key shelters in San Diego. Since the main library is closed at the moment, due to COVID-19, she’s not able to do the library visits that they were doing on a regular basis.

The librarians carrying out this incredible work deserve to be highlighted and I thought of sharing with the library world a general overview of what they do. Their work is not something we usually learn in library school or as part of continuing education. But it is part of librarianship’s principle of providing access to information.  It is a labor of love. It takes a long time for the paperwork and permits to be processed and approved. There are specific instructions about the materials that can be brought in. At times, the librarians do not see the children to which they bring books. They leave the books with authorities that will give them to the children. Yet, the librarians work tirelessly coordinating donations from publishing houses and authors that connect with them to bring hope to unaccompanied children. My respect to them!

For donations, go to: https://refugeechildren.wixsite.com/refugee-children/donate

For books, they accept Spanish or bilingual Spanish/English children’s books and it is best if you email cic@reforma.org to receive specifics about where to send any books.

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