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Officials Urge Arab Americans to Participate in Census

The Arab American News, News Report, Khalil AlHajal Posted: Jan 11, 2010

DEARBORN,Mich. - U.S. Census Bureau officials, the mayors of Dearborn and Dearborn Heights and U.S. Rep. John Dingell led a community meeting Tuesday at Dearborn City Hall urging participation in the upcoming decennial population count.

A major focus of the meeting was getting Arab Americans and senior citizens to fill out and return the short census questionnaire set to be mailed to every U.S. household in March.
Dearborn Mayor Jack OReilly
speaking alongside Dearborn Heights
Mayor Dan Paletko at City Hall
Wednesday. PHOTO:Khalil AlHajal

The Census is a count of everyone residing in the U.S., including non-citizens, documented or not, in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other island territories. The first census was conducted in 1790 and has been carried out every 10 years since then.

Ahmad Nassar, regional Partnership Specialist Team Leader for the Census Bureau, said at the gathering the 10-question forms should only take about 10 minutes to complete, that they'll come stamped and ready to return and that no individual information can ever be shared or used by any government agency.

Congressman Dingell, D-Dearborn, spoke at the gathering about the importance of getting a complete count to secure state and municipal funding, and to maintain the current number of Michigan representatives in Congress. He said residents should feel comfortable sharing answers with the Census Bureau because federal law protects personal information shared in the documents. Individual census responses cannot be shared with anyone - not other federal agencies, not with law enforcement, not with local authorities.

"You have no need to fear that the information you give to the Census Bureau is going to be used to hurt you or to hurt anyone," he said. "We have built a wall about that with the greatest of care."

Census data is used to allocate about $400 billion in federal funding to states and municipalities each year, officials said.

Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko cited, as an example of the census' financial impact on cities, $1.2 million in Community Development Block Grants that the city gets based on its population of just under 60,000.

"And that's just one category," he said. "I don't know of anything else that raises funds that quick like this census."

Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) officials said the group will offer its facilities as walk-in centers for families to get help filling out census forms.

Other Questionnaire Assistance Centers are to be established and advertised beginning next month, said Nassar.

The centers are to provide bilingual assistance and resources in dozens of languages, including Arabic and Aramaic.

Households that do not return questionnaires will receive visits from census workers looking to collect the information, and officials want the workers to be familiar faces in each community.

"Nobody knows your community better than you do," Nassar said.

The Bureau is hiring locals to fill field staff and office staff positions, including clerks, enumerators, supervisors and crew leaders at $8.25 to $19.50 per hour.

Arab Americans have criticized the census because it asks about race and Hispanic origin, but does not include 'Arab' as a choice. Census Bureau and Commerce Department officials have said questions about ancestry, ethnic origin, place of birth and language spoken at home have been left out of the decennial census to make the questionnaire shorter and simpler, but that those details are asked in the American Community Survey, which regularly goes out to smaller participant samples across the nation to gather more detailed data.

Related Articles:

U.S. Commerce Secretary Visits Arab American Community

Arab Americans Chafe Over Census Form

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