Booked For Appointments: First Library Gets Certified To Help Immigrants Navigate The Legal System

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"Booked For Appointments: First Library Gets Certified To Help Immigrants Navigate The Legal System"

Jessica Hill/AP

Jessica Hill/AP

Some time between stocking books on the top shelf and helping patrons with the printer, Homa Naficy, the Hartford Public Library (HPL) multicultural services director and Maryanne Daly-Doran, a lawyer and part time employee, are taking appointments to help immigrants file legal paperwork. So many immigrants require help that that the HPL has become the country’s first library to be certified by the Bureau of Immigrant Appeals, in a process that allows library employees to legally assist immigrants with paperwork.

According to Library Journal, HPL is generally the first destination for immigrants who need to access the internet and printer service before they go across the street to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) office. But library employees soon found that immigrants had trouble navigating through the complexities of online applications that require fees and email addresses. HPL employees aren’t legally allowed to help immigrants fill out immigration applications– a task which proved befuddling for Naficy whose job is to seek out answers.

So Naficy and Daly-Doran sought out certification from the Bureau of Immigrant Appeals. Employees who go through the certification process, which includes 40 hours of training, are now able to give legal advice to immigrants. Librarians broadened their services to include setting up email addresses and applying for credit and debit cards for immigrants.

Rafael Pichardo, a lawyer, is one of the BIA certified HPL employees who charges a nominal fee for his services. He said to Library Journal, “It’s really easy to practice law without intending to. Once a person tells someone this that and the other thing about immigration forms, that person is practicing law. Getting BIA accreditation for the staff provides the legal authority to do it and legitimizes the institution.”

Libraries such as HPL have long provided help for legal immigrants, like setting up English as a Second Language classes and naturalization courses. Providing community outreach programs like these essential services are useful not only in helping immigrants assimilate better, but in building trust with the immigrant population.

Update

The article previously indicated that there was an an immigration raid as a result of the distribution of an “Elm City Resident Card,” which provided a form of identification for undocumented immigrants. In fact, there was an immigration raid independent of the distribution of those cards.

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