After the publication of a recent School Library Journal article, I had the pleasure of speaking with three members of ALA’s REFORMA about the group’s Children in Crisis Project.’ Oralia Garza de Cortes and Patrick Sullivan spearheaded the project and we were also joined by Silvia Cisneros, current REFORMA President.’ Cisneros had made a donation drop off at the McAllen, TX detention center on September 10th.
I asked the trio about how easy is it to make a donation or offer support to the refugee children being held in these centers.’ All of them very quickly noted the level of difficulty; contracted defense workers will not allow the general public any individual contact with the children.’ Health and Human Services are allowed to accept two types of donations: blankets and books.’ As library workers we know the benefit of personal touch, but at the centers this is not an option.’ Cisneros notes that during her drop-off visit she delivered 225 books and these were received by Border Patrol Processing. ‘ ‘ A second donation drop-off occurred on October 17th at the Karnes City, TX distribution center.
In theory, the refugee minors can expect up to 72 hours in a detention center; REFORMA has heard that some children are spending nearly a month in these locations.’ Due process is slow without an American sponsor.’ The hope is that with access to books the children will find a bit of kindness and hope throughout this experience.’ REFORMA and YALSA member Ricardo Ramirez Madera designed a bookplate that is pasted into each donated book, and REFORMA member Lucía M González provided the bookplate’s inspirational quote: “Un libro es un compañero que te da luz y cobijo” (“A book is a companion that gives you light and shelter”).
I inquired about the presence of older youth and teens in the detention centers; Sullivan says that many of the minors who are crossing into the United States on their own tend to fall into this age group.’ He recounted a recent NPR story which interviewed a traumatized teen girl; her last experience in her native country before fleeing was to identify the body of her friend, a victim of brutal violence.’ REFORMA is looking to find book donors to offer titles more appropriate to this age groupâ€”career-based titles and biographies are in high demand.
What happens to these children and teens after they leave the centers?’ While awaiting court dates, many move on to a community shelter sponsored by groups such as the Catholic Church or the Southwest Key Program.’ It’s at this point that librarians will find an easier access point to working directly with youth.’ Sullivan and de Cortes recommend searching your area for any refugee shelters; they are generally very open to community outreach such as programming opportunities and library tours.’ Most refugee youth do not know how American libraries work, so exposing them to friendly staff and helpful resources can go a long way.’ Shelter staff may not be sure of which books or resources are the best for their group of youth, so the outreach effort can do double educational duty.
We have an incredible opportunity to reach traumatized youth and help them overcome the hurdles they face in order to find peace and happiness in their new country.’ ‘ YALSA members can connect with their regional/statewide REFORMA chapter to learn more, and can consider making donations via the CIC website.’ Sponsoring a local refugee shelter could be an amazing experience for a teen advisory board or other leadership group.’ REFORMA has a great set of resources to assist you in serving newly arrived Spanish-speaking community members. ‘ They’ve also collected a list of titles for Latino teens. ‘ I’m grateful for the chance I had to learn more about the refugee crisis and how librarians are helpingâ€”thank you Patrick, Oralia, and Silvia!