Latinos Still Divided Over Census
El Mensajero, News Report, Farida Jhabvala Romero, Translated by Elena Shore and Jacob Simas Posted: Feb 25, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO — The Census Bureau has spent more than a year preparing for the 2010 population count, which is already underway in Alaska and will continue in the rest of the country in mid-March.
To promote citizen participation, the agency launched a national $133 million advertising campaign in January, including $40 million for ads in Spanish and commercials during the Super Bowl, the most-watched television event in the United States.
But on the streets of San Francisco’s Mission District, and in other Latino neighborhoods across the country, the Census 2010 questionnaire – which will arrive in the mail the week of March 15 and only has 10 questions – still evokes suspicion and uncertainty.
“I’m thinking about it,” said David Aguirre, an English major at San Francisco City College who is of Salvadoran descent. "There are a lot of people who say you don’t have to participate in the Census because that information could be sent directly to immigration (authorities). A lot of us don’t have papers and that’s a way for the government to see how many of us there are.”
By law, Census workers can’t share individuals’ answers with anyone else, including other government agencies. Divulging Census participants’ personal information is a federal crime punishable by up to five years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
"There is an unfounded fear that somehow, Census data is connected to law enforcement," said Sonny Le, a spokesperson for the regional Census office, which includes Northern California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. "There is no connection. We don’t ask anything about immigration status and it doesn’t matter whether you are a citizen or not."
However, a recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 11 percent of people believe that the Census is used to locate undocumented immigrants.
The survey of 1,504 adults also found that 33 percent of Latinos interviewed didn’t know about the Census and only half of those who knew about it planned to participate.
Historically, children, migrant workers and ethnic groups have been hard to count. An estimated 1 million Latinos were not counted in the last census, resulting in significant losses of federal funds to the areas where they live.
The census count, conducted every 10 years, helps determine the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds each year for schools, community clinics, highways and other services, according to Census officials.
The population count is used to determine how many representatives each state gets in Congress.
To conduct a more complete count in this year’s census, the Census Bureau is hiring 1.4 million workers. In April, many of them will visit the homes of those who have not sent back their census forms, and collect information about the sex, age, ethnic origin and relationship of the residents.
The agency is also collaborating with the United Farm Workers (UFW), Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and hundreds of other organizations to dispel fears and misinformation about the census.
“The future of your kids and your families depends on being counted,” said Ana Pérez, executive director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), which joined 12 other groups in a campaign targeting Chinese, Filipino and Latino communities in San Francisco. CARECEN will use Census funds to send volunteers and 20 employees door to door in the southern San Francisco. A Census worker will also be available three days a week at their offices in the Mission District to answer questions from the public.
"It's very important for immigrants, whether or not they’re documented, to fill out the forms because it will allow our city to get resources to support our local communities," said Perez, who grew up in Los Angeles and has dedicated her career to immigrants’ rights. "We know we are under-represented at all levels of government and not having a clear idea of how many of us there are means we can’t advocate for greater representation.”
Reverend Miguel Rivera, who over the last year has directed a national campaign to boycott the 2010 census in the absence of immigration reform, says that the poverty and lack of resources in Latino communities demonstrate that “it is a huge lie that if we are not counted in the census, we don’t receive funds.”
“Even when our people are counted, the public parks and schools in our communities are always the poorest. Why is that?” asked Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Ministers and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), based in Washington, D.C. "The problem isn’t the money that the census claims to bring; it is the corruption of politicians. The elected officials aren’t interested in our undocumented Latino brothers, and that’s why the money doesn’t come into our communities, even when we have been counted.”
Rivera said that with the support of pastors from more than 20,000 evangelical churches in the CONLAMIC network – the majority of which are in Oakland, Calif. – 4 million parishioners will not participate in the census.
“Our position is not anti-census, but one based on moral responsibility,” added Rivera, who has been an evangelical minister for 39 years, and also manages a radio program that airs in 28 states. “We demand that the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama take action to legalize our undocumented brothers, so that they may participate in the census without fear.”
Among the actions the president could take, Rivera listed an immediate end to immigration raids on workers and federal programs such as 287(g), through which the department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) trains local police departments to detain undocumented immigrants.
But 65-year-old Maria Ofelia Sandoval, who came to San Francisco from El Salvador 35 years ago, believes the census is very important, and has invited her friends and neighbors to participate.
“It’s foolishness for people not to be counted!” exclaimed Sandoval, who is a legal resident and a retiree. “How is it possible that there are people who have five children in school, who are receiving food stamps, and they aren’t going to be counted? If they don’t get counted, their children are going to lose a lot of benefits. That’s why I say, ‘Get counted.’”
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