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Ethnic Media Indispensable Says U.S. Census

New America Media, News Report, Marcelo Ballv Posted: Jun 09, 2009

ATLANTA -- The U.S. Census Bureau considers the ethnic media an indispensable ally as it strives to build trust in immigrant and minority communities ahead of the 2010 census.

U.S. Census"We can't do what we must do, which is deliver an equitable census, which counts everyone, without you," said Arnold Jackson, chief operating officer of the decennial census.

He spoke June 4 in Atlanta. Some 200 representatives from ethnic media outlets met with census officials at a briefing before the 2009 New America Media Expo and Awards.

In the past, minorities' and immigrants' distrust of government has been blamed for low response rates and census undercounts in ethnic communities.

The Census Bureau says it will invest dollars in order to cement its partnership with ethnic media. Overall, it will spend $145 million on media to promote the 2010 census, with more than half of that money going to local and regionally targeted media.

In a sign that a significant amount of that budget will go to ethnic media, the Census Bureau has contracted outside marketing agencies and internal media experts with a focus in Latino, Asian and other ethnic media.

Census briefingMany of these employees and agency representatives were in Atlanta to meet ethnic media publishers and broadcasters.

"You are the core representatives of the very populations we have the most interest in," said Manuel Landivar, assistant regional manager for the 2010 census in Atlanta.

"We want you to help us deliver that simple message that says the census is easy, that the census is safe, and the census is important," added Landivar.

In a video presented at the meeting, Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, or NALEO, described the census as "the foundation of our democracy."

Census officials stressed how the tally's results directly impact the health of communities and neighborhoods. Some $300 billion in federal funding to state, local and tribal governments is apportioned according to census data, said Stephen Bruckner, who heads public affairs for the 2010 census.

States also win or lose congressional seats based on census counts.

No one should be afraid of the census, stressed the officials -- not undocumented immigrants, Arab and Muslim Americans, or unauthorized tenants in overcrowded apartments.

The once-a-decade count is strictly confidential, and the information collected isn't shared with anyone -- not even other government or law enforcement agencies.

In fact, census information is so strictly protected under U.S. law that any violation of the lifelong oath of confidentiality taken by census employees is punishable by a $250,000 fine and five years in prison.

The laws guaranteeing the privacy of census information even trump the statutes of the Patriot Act, said Bruckner.

These assurances about the census count's confidentiality were clearly directed at allaying the fears of certain groups, such as Arab and Muslim Americans, who in the years since Sept. 11, 2001 have been under intense scrutiny from government and law enforcement. Census briefing

The failure of immigration reform in the U.S. Senate in 2007, which left 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States without a path to legal status, was also followed by a sharp anti-immigrant backlash.

Several ethnic media representatives at the meeting spoke out about these and related anxieties.

They included Judith Martinez-Sadri, editor of Atlanta Latino newspaper, who asked whether Census Bureau officials would ask local law enforcement to cease immigration roundups so that immigrants might respond to the census in a less fear-ridden climate.

Census officials said there were limits to what they could promise.

"We do not and will not have the authority to tell law enforcement what to do," answered Jackson, the chief operating officer.

However, he emphasized that immigrants can trust the census. They can fill out census forms, which will be available in several languages, and answer the questions of multilingual Census Bureau employees, with complete confidence and without fear of negative consequences.

In fact, undocumented immigrants might have a strong incentive for participating in the census. In the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan granted an amnesty to undocumented immigrants who had been in the country for a certain number of years, many immigrants used evidence of their participation in the 1980 census to qualify for legal status, said Landivar.

The census works in two phases. In the first, which will begin in March 2010, census questionnaires are mailed to every household in the United States. Someone must mail back a form with a complete count of everyone who is currently residing in that unit of housing, whether they are supposed to be living there or not.

If households do not respond to the first or a second mailed questionnaire, Census Bureau employees, called "census takers," fan out to collect information in person from housing units that did not mail in the form.

Census officials hope the stripped-down simplicity of this year's form will boost response rates, and reduce the need for door-knocking.

The form, says Census Bureau officials, is the shortest since 1790, the year the census began. It contains 10 questions, and can be completed in 10 minutes.

Another part of the Census Bureau's job, Landivar said, is a "mammoth recruiting effort," to make sure that the census takers who go door to door look and talk like the people they're trying to count.

This recruitment drive, with a focus on a diversity to mirror the nation's own, will create 40,000 jobs in Georgia, Florida and Alabama alone.

The Census Bureau said it would not discriminate between large and small media outlets as it raced to build partnerships with ethnic media.

In Florida ahead of the 2000 census, "We sat down and met with every single media outlet, whether it was a 10,000-watt station or a Haitian organization that bought airtime on the local radio station," said Bruckner.

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