AS/COA Online | A Push for Census Participation

Census 2010 forms don’t get mailed until March, but the U.S. Census Bureau kicked off a national campaign this week in hopes of ensuring participation in the count. The million campaign includes cross-country road tours to raise awareness about the decennial survey and reach out to typically undercounted populations, including Hispanics. The counts factor into the distribution of $400 billion in annual federal funding to state and local governments. Despite the link between funding and completing the Census, the survey has sparked division between Latino leaders urging Hispanics to fill out the forms and those who contend that Latinos should boycott the survey unless Washington approves comprehensive immigration reform.

The Census Bureau estimates that nearly 250,000 Latinos went uncounted during the 2000 Census. But the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials places the figure closer to one million. Undercounting in 2000 cost states $4.1 billion in federal funding. California alone lost $1.5 billion. On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaragaisa—arguably one of the country’s most prominent Hispanic politicians—joined Latino leaders in calling for census participation. He argued that Los Angeles lost $200 million worth of federal cash because of undercounting in the last round.

Census counts also play a role in political The Economist points out that the census could change the number of seats in the House of Representatives for as many as 18 states; “The big, mostly white, states of the north-east will be the losers. The Hispanic-rich border region will gain.”

With concerns about undercounting in mind, a campaign for an accurate Hispanic tally is underway. This year’s census marks the first time the Bureau uses bilingual forms, with the new document going out to 13.5 million households in chiefly Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. A number of Latino agencies and major Spanish-language media outlets joined together to create an awareness campaign with events, trainings, and social media tools to help immigrants complete forms and overcome fears about sharing information with the government. Census officials have also met with local ethnic media outlets to share information and allay concerns about confidentiality. A number of churches are playing a part in urging participation as well.

But others argue that Latinos should boycott the census until comprehensive immigration reform wins approval. The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, representing 20,000 evangelical churches in 34 states, says Washington has delayed immigration reform for too long and threatens an incorrect tally without it. The Obama administration calls immigration reform a priority. A reform bill was submitted last month in the House and a Senate bill will likely gain introduction early this year. Still, with weighty issues such as Afghanistan and health care on the table, such proposals may not win approval by April 1—National Census Day.

In the meantime, those against the boycott point out that a true count will increase Hispanic clout and help the cause of immigration reform while ensuring crucial funding in Latino communities. “Non-participation would achieve nothing more than to potentially deny necessary federal funds to areas with high Hispanic populations,” writes AS/COA Jason MArczak in Viewpoints Americas. “Is this what communities need in the midst of a recession?

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