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Arizona's Immigrant Politics a Hurdle for 2010 Census

New America Media, News Report/Video, Jacob Simas, video by Paul Billingsley Posted: Dec 02, 2009

PHOENIX, Ariz.--Robert Jackson knows what happened in 2000, the last time the U.S. Census Bureau conducted an official count of the national population. His Gila River Indian Community of nearly 17,000 enrolled members was undercounted by nearly a third.

The funding we missed out on in 2000 -- we dont want that to happen again, he said. Were experiencing some hard economic times.

With $300 to $400 billion per year in federal funds for housing, health care, education, employment and other program allocations based on census numbers, the stakes for an accurate count in 2010 are high.

That is why Jackson, a reporter for the Gila River Indian Newspaper, gathered with more than 30 other ethnic media representatives in Phoenix on Nov. 19 for a roundtable discussion with national and regional officials from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Bureau officials say the discussion, which was co-sponsored and organized by New America Media, can help bridge the gap between them and Arizonas ethnic and immigrant communities, which have traditionally been the hardest to solicit responses from.

I know that when I say something, it doesnt really count, said Cathy Lacy, the Census Bureaus Denver regional office director. But when you say something as leaders of these communities - when your voice is heard - then they will trust your voice.

Lacy and her colleagues say they are hopeful that partnering with ethnic media in Arizona will result in an improvement on the 63 percent response rate they obtained here 10 years ago, which was below the national average of 67 percent.

Several counties in Arizona, including Navajo and Apache, had census response rates below 50 percent. La Paz county in southwest Arizona responded to the 2000 census at a rate of 32 percent.

The reason for the low rates, said some ethnic media participants, is a culture of fear and mistrust of the government in their communities.

There are 200,000 immigrants [in Arizona] that dont have papers, said Lizeth Flix, a reporter with La Prensa Hispana. What are we going to do to ensure them that all the information is going to be confidential? Because here in Arizona, were living through one of the worst political situations.

Flix is one of several reporters who broached the subject of immigration politics in Maricopa County, where they say workplace raids and random traffic stops by law enforcement targeting immigrants have become commonplace.

These practices, said Flix, will preclude many Hispanics from giving out personal information, such as full names and addresses, which are included on the 10-question census form.

We have an issue in Arizona, in Phoenix, explained Dave Selzer, local sales manager for Univision Radio. There is a minority of people here that are very prejudiced and they will put a damper on what youre trying to do unless we break through that and make sure that immigrants, Hispanics, blacks, Native Americans and Anglo-Saxons like myself understand it [the census] is safe.

Arnold Jackson, associate director of the Decennial Census, responded to those concerns. Jackson had traveled from Washington, D.C., to reach out to Arizonas ethnic media. All employees of the U.S. Census Bureau, he said, take an oath of confidentiality.

Id like to plead with you to go forward with the message that the Census is entirely safe, he said. Were not representing any kind of enforcement type of activities. Our information is kept only for purposes of apportionment and distributing resources.

Weve been working hard to tell people that this information is confidential, but we have a long way to go, said Flix. Weve got to change their minds to believe that the census is not just another political trick.

The U.S. Constitution mandates a full count of the U.S. population every 10 years. All residents are counted, said Lacy, not only if you are a citizen.

Arizona is one of the fastest growing states. The Census Bureau estimates that the population here has grown by 26.7 percent since 2000, compared to the national growth rate of 8 percent. Sixteen percent of all residents, they say, are foreign born.

Ethnic media representatives were a microcosm of the diversity in Arizona, representing Hispanic, African-American, Chinese, Muslim, American-Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Burmese communities.

In turn, each expressed the unique challenges to organizing a higher census count in their communities.

I would say the Census Bureau strikes fear in the African-American community because they think the information could be used against them, maybe from an incarceration standpoint or a tax standpoint, explained Tremaine Jasper, owner of Phx.Soul.com. Nevertheless, he said, the census is extremely important because we want to get a piece of the $400 billion in funding that will help our health organizations, businesses and educational facilities grow.

Daniel Gibson, editor of Native Peoples Magazine, says Indian leadership is increasingly seeing the merits of participating in the census, despite a history of mistrust.

Historically, the Indian population has been undercounted in this country. I dont think its the fault of the Census Bureau necessarily, but theres a long history of abuses and being lied to, frankly, said Gibson. But as its been pointed out, the census is extremely important as to where the federal dollars end up going.

The federal governments $400 million advertising campaign to increase participation in the census will target media markets in 28 languages, including television, newspaper, radio, magazine and online media. According to bureau officials, roughly half of the advertising dollars are earmarked for ethnic media outlets.

While majority markets, such as Univision and others, are a key component to reaching ethnic communities, says Jackson, the true success will be to capture those who havent been captured.

Gibson agreed. In Arizona, you have to go down to the tribal level. You cant assume youll cover the community by just reaching out to the big media.

The Census Bureau will also outreach to hard-to-count communities via a Census Bus Tour, utilizing 13 vehicles across the nation to bring the message of the U.S. Census directly to communities. The buses, officials explained, will be akin to traveling road shows utilizing stages, live music and celebrity guests to generate interest and education around the 2010 Census. Eight hundred such events are planned from Jan. 4 to April 13 of next year.

National Census Day is April 1, and results of the Decennial Census will be announced on Dec. 31, 2010.

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