After Yearlong Campaign to Reassure Immigrants, Census Effort Still Faces Doubts

A Census road tour staff member helps set up a stand at an event in Suitland, Md. - Photo: Census Bureau.

A Census road tour staff member helps set up a stand at an event in Suitland, Md. (Photo: Census Bureau)

Almost a year ago, the Census Bureau began reaching out to ethnic media and immigrant organizations looking for help in convincing minorities and immigrants that being counted in the 2010 Census is in their best interest. But warnings that these groups will go undercounted persist.

“The big campaign the Census Bureau has launched to persuade the immigrant population into participating in the 2010 demographic count has not convinced some who think that responding to the enumerators can complicate their situation in the U.S.,” the Spanish-language EFE wire service reported from Chicago this week.

The bureau has proffered numerous assurances that Census information will remain confidential. But EFE quoted immigrant Maria Figueroa saying, “If they ask me about my migratory status, I would simply not say yes or no, because I don’t know whether they will share that information with Immigration.”

Just a few days ago, President Barack Obama joined the bureau’s promotion efforts when he recorded a public service announcement in fulfillment of what the agency called “a White House tradition of strong support for the census dating back to 1790.”

But the concerns that many will not be counted remain. Chinese-English newspaper Sampan reported that Census promotion efforts among Asian Americans “in large immigrant communities such as Lowell, Brockton, and Chinatown have stressed the benefits of being counted and reinforced the safety from threats such as deportation.”

But it added: “Many fears are not unfounded. A bill was introduced to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to include citizenship and immigration status in the form, even as the 2010 materials have already been disseminated. It was eventually defeated, but not overwhelmingly.”

This is despite the Census Bureau’s very broad initiative to reach various immigrants groups. Samoan American Jean Melesaine wrote on New America Media:

…this time around, when the Census arrives at my parents home, it will be familiar. For the first time in history, the Census is being translated into Samoan, the language my family.

In my household, and similar families across the country, the translations of the forms will give comfort to people who never quite understood how to count in a country when they barely could understand the language. And it will be their children who will translate its importance.

Last month, Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston and an advisor to the Census Bureau, told Feet in 2 Worlds that the government’s massive effort is not enough.

“The participation of groups and organizations is essential,” he said, “especially in hard to count communities.”

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