This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Updated 7/5/2018 to include comment from ICE.
The Berks County Residential Center denied a donation Tuesday of about 100 brand-new children’s books written in Spanish to the 20 immigrant children being held there.
The books, along with bookmarks handmade by Latinx children in Philadelphia, were to be donated by Mighty Writers, an organization that provides writing workshops for students outside of school.
According to an email from Tim Whitaker, executive director for Mighty Writers, the organization “had previously received confirmation from [the center’s executive director, Diane Edwards] that the books would be welcomed and could be dropped off at the center.”
Whitaker said Edwards called Mighty Writers late Monday afternoon to cancel the drop-off and gave no explanation.
He said he was upset by the cancellation. “We really believe that reading is critical for the children, for all people, and we had hoped these books would provide great comfort for these kids. The kids at our El Futuro site had spent four hours making the bookmarks and writing them well wishes. Canceling with no explanation is enough to make anyone annoyed.”
Whitaker said Edwards was not cooperative in rescheduling a drop-off.
“It was clear there was not going to be a rescheduling,” Whitaker said. “She said that they had a library of their own and that we should take the books somewhere else.”
ICE Officials wrote in an email that the books were declined because the center has an “overabundance of books and simply could not accommodate more.”
The books featured Latinx characters and were chosen specifically for the immigrant children.
“All of us at Mighty Writers are frustrated and disappointed that the children being detained at the center are being deprived of books that feature children that look and speak like they do,” Whitaker wrote in an email. “Our hope was that the books might provide some small escape.”
Whitaker said he had hoped the children could take the books with them when they left the center to build their own libraries.
The books and bookmarks will now be donated to other detention centers and organizations across the state.
“We’ve been hearing from organizations who are in need of books, so we’re going to look into those, and we’re also going to keep trying to get books into the detention centers,” he said.
The books were a part of the MightyWriters’ “Books to Immigrant Children” initiative, which raises money to provide Spanish-language books for children in detention centers.
“In almost every case, children are being held in detention centers with an unfamiliar language,” Whitaker said. “We wanted to raise money to get books to those children to give them some small relief and comfort from the situation.”