Deportation fears in the Hispanic community that would prevent an accurate count in the 2010 Census have been exacerbated by the news that the Department of Commerce will not ask the Department of Homeland Security to halt workplace raids during the Census, as it did in 2000.

Even with the raids suspended, Latinos were reported undercounted by 2.6 percent in 2000. The 2010 Census, which begins April 1, is further complicated by the prominence of a movement urging undocumented immigrants to boycott it in protest to President Obama’s and Congress’s failure to act swiftly on immigration reform.

Rev. Miguel Rivera, chairman of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, has been campaigning since spring for a boycott. The California-based Mexican American Political Association added its voice this month, asking all Latinos to boycott unless or until a comprehensive bill is passed.

The 2010 Census is being referred to by the Bureau as its initial true Latino Census. Thousands of English/Spanish bilingual forms will be mailed out to households in communities with large Hispanic population concentrations. Its effort is widely supported by such national organizations as the National Council of La Raza and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

LULAC spokesperson Lizette Olmos labeled Rivera’s efforts as short-sighted and counterproductive. “He is only doing the Hispanic community harm,” she told Hispanic Link News Service, stating that support for major federal programs is based on Census population counts.  LULAC has joined NCLR and a number of Hispanic organizations in an effort to ensure that Rivera’s boycott call has minimal impact.

Ya es hora kicked off its ¡Hágase Contar! (Be Counted) campaign last month at the National Press Club in an effort to achieve a full Latino count. Media and community leaders, including Univisión’s María Elena Salinas and impreMedia’s Rubén Keoseyan, endorsed the government’s efforts to inform Hispanics on the importance of an accurately count.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected & Appointed Officials Education Fund, called the Census the most important issue facing Latinos today. Census Bureau chief Robert Groves was on hand to praise Latino groups’ efforts. Both emphasized that government and community efforts are essential in redrawing federal and state political district lines that accurately reflect population growth, thus further empowering Latino communities politically, increasing funding for federal programs in those communities, and “repainting the community portrait of America.”

Salinas addressed the suspicions of some in the Latino community that information obtained by census-takers could be used to identify undocumented migrants and in planning immigration raids. She stressed privacy laws. Groves further assuaged any concerns, stating that Census Bureau employees take an oath not to divulge information, even to the president of the United States.

 Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, said that the Census could only help the Hispanic community, and Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the fast-growing 2.1-million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), added that failure to mail back Census forms would only undermine comprehensive immigration reform efforts.

Harris County, Tex., Commissioner Sylvia García listed apathy as well as fear as reasons why the Latino population was undercounted in 2000.

Other hard-to-reach groups are indigenous peoples from Mexican states such as Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca who speak neither English nor Spanish. Groves said the Bureau was committed to reaching all communities. He acknowledged that in cases where the best way to reach a community is to hire non-citizens, the Census office is seeking special exemptions.

The census form includes questions about citizenship and country of origin but has none about immigration status. Univisión and impreMedia, respectively the largest TV and print Hispanic media organizations, say they will continue to educate the Hispanic community by running advertisements and sponsoring community events.

(Erick Galindo Is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. Email him at [email protected])

©2009

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