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Lake County libraries become ‘Citizenship Corners’

Librarians from across Lake County were encouraged create “Citizenship Corners” their libraries during training cosponsored by U.S. Citizenship Immigrations Services.

Librarians from across Lake County were encouraged to create “Citizenship Corners” in their libraries during a training cosponsored by U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

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Waukegan Public Library

The library offers more than 25 programs for Spanish-speaking immigrants, including conversational English as a second language, Spanish literacy, citizenship preparation, health literacy, pre-GED training, and most recently, Rules of the Road for the new Illinois temporary visitor driver’s license.

The library won the 2013 Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal.

For more information, call (847) 623-2041 or visit

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Updated: November 20, 2013 3:34AM

Librarians from across Lake County have been encouraged to create “Citizenship Corners” in their libraries.

During a training session Sept. 19 at the Waukegan Public Library, which this year received a gold medal from First Lady Michelle Obama for its outreach to immigrants, library staff learned how to handle questions and concerns raised by immigrant patrons. The program, which was cosponsored by U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services, drew about 30 librarians from communities including Lake Villa, North Chicago, Wauconda and southwest suburban Niles. School libraries and the Lake County Law library also were represented.

Carmen Patlan, the Waukegan library’s manager of community engagement and outreach, told the group that in order to stay relevant, the library has committed to meeting the needs of immigrants, who make up 54 percent of the city’s population and 70 percent of the enrollment in Waukegan public schools.

“They need to learn to speak English,” Patlan said. “They need to pursue citizenship. They need to get their GED (diploma). So we are offering programs to address those needs, to be a key source of information.”

Libraries are encouraged to partner with the three agencies in Lake County that specialize in offering citizenship and other support services to immigrants: the Father Gary Graf Center and HACES, Hispanic American Community Education and Services, both in Waukegan, and Mano a Mano in Round Lake. All three groups gave presentations.

Kathleen Donovan, HACES Deferred Action Program manager, explained how a local 16-year-old was charged $600 by a “notario” or notary public to apply for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a 2012 executive order by President Barack Obama that offers protection from deportation and two-year work permits to eligible, young, undocumented immigrants. But seven months later, no paperwork has been filed on behalf of the boy and the notario has disappeared, Donovan said.

“Fraud in immigrant communities is a huge problem,” said Monika Starczuk, representing the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Along with Uniting America, the coalition is working to train all librarians and library staff in Lake County on immigration issues including naturalization, fraud prevention and available resources.

“So much information is overheard from a friend or someone in a store,” Starczuk said. “Libraries can be a trusted source of information for immigrants, but we all need to be on the same page.”

Nearly three out of five Illinois immigrants now live in suburban Chicago, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services, and in Waukegan alone there are roughly 27,000 immigrants. Lake County towns including Vernon Hills and Lincolnshire have seen a significant increase in Asian immigrants over the past decade, officials reported.

“Neighborhood libraries are critical in terms of helping to provide services and to help to integrate immigrants into society,” Starczuk said. “This isn’t a new initiative or idea. We are a country of immigrants. It’s in our own self-interest to be a society that has equal rights and is well integrated.”

As a result of the training program, the Wauconda Public Library is now talking to Mano a Mano about a possible partnership.

“This was very, very beneficial information,” Wauconda librarian Norma Hackee said. “We have a large community of Hispanic people who are in need of information.”

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