Census Representatives Ask New York Ethnic Media for Help With Population Count

From left: NYC immigrant affairs commissioner Guillermo Linares, NYC Census 2010 director Stacey Cumberbatch, and NY Community Media Alliance director Juana Ponce de Leon - Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska.

From left: NYC immigrant affairs commissioner Guillermo Linares, NYC Census 2010 director Stacey Cumberbatch, and NY Community Media Alliance director Juana Ponce de Leon. (Photo: Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska.)

Census representatives made a plea to New York ethnic journalists to help them spread the message that every New Yorker will benefit from the 2010 Census, even undocumented immigrants. City officials and immigrant organizations supported the initiative, during a press briefing held Tuesday at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

“Census data determine the number of delegates the city gets in Congress and the State Legislature, as well as the size of each of our 51 City Council districts,” said Stacey Cumberbatch, New York City director for Census 2010. “But they also determine how much federal funding New York City gets each year. This money funds things like health care, housing, education or senior services.”

Cumberbatch told the few dozen journalists at the briefing that in 2007 New York City got $22 billion (or $2,700 per person) to fund its various programs. That amount was calculated based on Census data using a simple equation: the more people counted, the more funding appropriated.

To ensure an accurate count of all New York City residents in April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg created the NYC 2010 Census office, which works with the U.S. Census Bureau Regional Office, but at the same time collaborates with community partners whose task is to reach out to traditionally hard-to-count populations. Immigrants, especially those undocumented, are among them.

See more Feet in 2 Worlds stories about the 2010 Census

Over 3 million out of 8.3 million New Yorkers were born in other countries. Approximately 500,000 of them are undocumented, said Commissioner Guillermo Linares of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

“They are an integral part of the city,” he said. “If these people are not counted, we’ll compromise our safety, well-being and health. These numbers will also have a huge impact on our city for the next 10 years, until the next Census is conducted.”

“Undocumented immigrants take the bus, the train, they go to the hospital and their children go to school,” said assistant regional Census manager Allison Cenac. “We need them to be included in funding so that we can serve them well.”

Census representatives emphasized that the collected data is confidential and it will not be shared with any other federal agency, such as the IRS, FBI or Homeland Security, nor with local police departments or the housing authority.

The survey does not contain questions about the respondent’s legal status or citizenship.

Nevertheless, some communities –such as South Asians, as a couple of ethnic journalists present at the meeting pointed out– are very hesitant to participate in the Census.

In 2000, Cumberbatch said, 55% of New Yorkers who got the Census questionnaires filled them out and mailed them back. That’s well below the national average of 67%.

“This may lead to the emergence of invisible communities,” said Juana Ponce de Leon, Executive Director of the NY Community Media Alliance, an umbrella organization for the city’s ethnic press.

The city counts on trusted cultural and educational institutions, faith-based and immigrant organizations and ethnic media to explain that filling out the Census survey is safe, and will not get them arrested or deported.

At the same time, “a Census bureau employee who releases personal information that is collected during a survey may face up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000,” said Allison Cenac.

For the first time forms will be mailed in Spanish to households located in areas where there are many Spanish speakers. New Yorkers speaking Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean will also be able to reach an interpreter by phone in case they are not able to fill out the form themselves. Users of 50 other languages will have the option of ordering a language guide with instructions in their native tongue.

Census representatives hope that as a result of these efforts more people will participate. This will also reduce the necessity for follow-up door-to-door surveys conducted among those households that do not respond to forms mailed to them.

Questionnaires will be mailed in March 2010. They will contain 10 questions. Many detailed questions were removed and instead became a part of the American Community Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau every year but on a much smaller scale.

Census representatives also asked the ethnic media to inform their communities about temporary job opportunities. Currently they are filling managerial positions. Later they will be hiring people to conduct door-to-door surveys.

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