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Census Officials Vow To Protect Confidentiality of 2010 Data

New America Media, News Report, Anthony D. Advincula, Story; Paul Billingsley, Video Posted: May 12, 2009

Editor's Note: As the 2010 U.S. Census approaches, people from ethnic communities are getting increasingly fearful that the government will use the information collected against them. In Detroit, during one of many ethnic media briefings planned across the country, Census Bureau officials reassured journalists that there was nothing to worry about.

DETROIT As many immigrants across the country feel apprehensive about divulging personal information to government employees, Census Bureau officials assured ethnic media that the agency protects individual confidentiality.

The U.S. Census Bureau Meets With Michigan's Ethnic Media from Paul Billingsley on Vimeo

Every detail from names to addresses to telephone numbers will be gathered solely for the decennial census and nothing will be used for immigration and any other purposes, officials said, reiterating the significance of the population data in the long run to employment, health, education and apportioning political representation.

If they (census counters) knock on your door, always ask for their identification, Arnold Jackson, Census Bureau associate director for the 2010 census, said recently at the news briefing with ethnic media. If the information given is being used against you, I will make calls to your Congress member.

While the 2000 census was deemed successful, Jackson said that the upcoming one is expected to be particularly meaningful as well as daunting as the country has become more diverse in the last decade. He admitted that the Census Bureau is facing challenges that we have not met in 2000.

Eight years after the Sept. 11 tragedy, many immigrants are still wary of cooperating with government initiatives, fearing that it could lead to profiling, discrimination and bias against them. Recent roundups and detention of undocumented immigrants in different cities, including Detroit, have compounded the situation.

As of July 1, 2008, there are about 5.35 million people living in the Detroit metropolitan area. Of that figure, only 62 percent were counted in the 2000 census. In recent years, Detroits population of immigrants from the Middle East and South Asia has increased significantly.

Tack Yong Kim, publisher of the Michigan Korean Weekly, was upfront with census officials about the confidentiality of the data.

In your slogan, it says Its Simple, Its Important, Its Safe, he said, referring to a census video presentation. But my question is: Are we really safe, after all?

Although there seemed to be no answer, Kim brought up the overarching power of the U.S. Patriot Act, which allows law enforcement agencies to search phone and e-mail communications, have access to public records, and even have the authority to search homes or business offices without the owners permission or knowledge.

I am not in a position to say what the Patriot Act can and cannot do, said Jackson, though he repeated that he believes in respecting an individuals privacy. Census employees take an oath of confidentiality and can face a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison, if the oath is violated.

Still, Jaroslaw Rumin of Polish-language Radio Kotrast was concerned about specific types of data being collected and how it relates to the objectives of the census.

If everything is confidential, why does the census ask for telephone numbers? he asked. What is the importance of knowing ones telephone number if we just want to count the population?

Dwight P. Dean, head of the Census Bureaus Detroit region, acknowledged the trust issue in immigrant communities as suspicion runs high. He agreed that the most effective census data collectors are the ones who represent specific communities because they speak the language, they are of the same racial or ethnic background, and they know the communitys culture.

With the current economic recession, shrinkage of the auto industry and housing foreclosures, Dean sought the help of ethnic media and expressed confidence that the census could be the way to overcome that reluctance and make inroads for better cooperation.

We need your help, Dean said. I am imploring each of you to partner with us with credibility and sense of trust. The census data will be there in the next decade and can be used by our children.

The news briefing the second in a series of press initiatives in key cities across the country was attended by about 30 ethnic media representatives from different parts of Michigan and 20 Census Bureau employees.

Related Articles:

Ethnic Media to Play Critical Role in 2010 Census

Latino Church Leaders Split on Census Boycott

Census Bureau Seeks Help from New Orleans Ethnic Media

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