Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) Supports a Full-Time Point of Contact for Citizenship and Immigration Legal Services
Brooklyn Public Library, including its flagship Central Library and all 58 branches, has a deep impact on the surrounding community. BPL began offering volunteer-led drop-in English Conversation Groups in 2002. In 2004, BPL expanded to offer formalized ESL and civics classes in 26 locations. Over the years, the library began establishing Citizenship Prep Groups and naturalization application assistance workshops through meaningful partnerships with nonprofit and local community organizations. BPL received its second USCIS grant in 2016, in partnership with Immigrant Justice Corps, and has served more than 566 individuals since 2014, now offering six classes at five branches. The library has since established an innovative program to support a full-time point of contact for citizenship and immigration legal services, called the New Americans Navigator, which was established with the support of the Fund for New Citizens in The New York Community Trust.
The New Americans Navigator serves as an important community liaison in a variety of ways. The Navigator can be reached through an immigration hotline, which connects those seeking more information about services. The hotline, which provides interpretation in over 170 languages, received 6,000 calls in 2017. The Navigator is able to assist by making appointments for legal service representatives to meet with clients for free services, connecting prospective students to citizenship instruction and ESOL classes, and informing them about other available resources such as the citizenship prep and English conversation groups. *Monica, a student in the fall 2017 citizenship class, made a legal services appointment through the New Americans Navigator to meet with one of the fellows from BPL’s immigration legal services partner Immigrant Justice Corps.
The New Americans Navigator has played a vital role in connecting interested community members to citizenship and legal services. The new position was inspired in part by BPL’s Outreach Department, which was created in 2013 to create a bridge between library services and marginalized communities. This took place as existing participants in the conversation groups expressed interest in naturalization, inspiring BPL to pilot volunteer-led citizenship prep groups. The library’s drive to expand citizenship services, as well as strong community demand, inspired the creation of the New Americans Navigator.
The navigator position benefits BPL’s citizenship services by helping to connect interested community members more quickly, while also offsetting the time legal representatives and instructors would need to conduct the clerical and intake processes. As a public library serving a borough of 2.6 million residents, the New Americans Navigator helps to enrich the overall patron experience and increase efficiency. While the library’s website serves as a useful resource, the Navigator creates a more individualized and personal experience for those seeking assistance in preparing for the naturalization process. *Sara had been coming to the library for other programs when she asked for more information about the citizenship classes. “[I come] for information… I find everything here,” said Sara.
In 2018, BPL plans to continue expanding upon its close partnerships with USCIS and others, including Immigrant Justice Corps, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and New York Legal Assistance Groups through New York City’s NY Citizenship initiative, Immigration Advocates Network, New York City council members, and community-based organizations like CUNY Citizenship NOW!BPL plans to continue seeking programming support, reference materials, and technical assistance to further develop their immigration services. BPL also intends to add drop-in assistance once a month for citizenship information at the Central Library. Like the New Americans Navigator program, this new event can serve as an open house for community members to find out how to begin the naturalization process, make appointments, and connect with citizenship preparation classes. Through creative programs like the New Americans Navigator, BPL is able to conduct outreach more effectively and connect on a more personal level with the community.
*Student names have been changed