Pastors Want The Undocumented To Boycott Census Unless Immigration Reform Passes First

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
Miguel Rivera, president of CONLAMIC. (Photo: El Diario/La Prensa)

Miguel Rivera, president of CONLAMIC, calls for a Census boycott. (Photo: El Diario/La Prensa)

It may sound counterintuitive, but despite all the talk about ensuring that underrepresented minorities are counted in the 2010 Census, some Hispanic activists are calling for undocumented immigrants to avoid being counted next year.

A group of Evangelical leaders, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC), is calling for immigrants to boycott the census “until Congress and the new administration pass a comprehensive solution to immigration reform that includes a path to legalization for an estimated 12 million undocumented people.”

The calculation behind the organization’s call is that cities and towns need their population to be counted accurately in order to receive federal funds for public services. The coalition’s president, Rev. Miguel Rivera, also says census information has been used in the past to target the undocumented population.

“Our church leaders have witnessed misuse of otherwise benign Census population data by state and local public officials in their efforts to pass and enact laws that assist in the perpetration of civil rights violations and abuses against undocumented workers and families,” Rivera said in a statement.

At a meeting in Newark, NJ, on Tuesday, Rivera added,

The same data that helps the Latino community to seek political empowerment, the same numbers that are used to show how strong we are and prove our growing numbers, that’s the same data the anti-immigrant forces use against us.

[Latino pastor group urging census boycott – The A.P.]

CONLAMIC bills itself a socially conservative organization —it opposes gay marriage, wants limits on abortion and supports the right to pray in schools— and claims to represent 16,000 churches nationwide.

A Census spokesman quoted by The Associated Press stressed that the information gathered in the count is confidential, and that officials do not inquire about immigration status or ask for a Social Security number.

“Our job is to count every single person,” said Raul Cisneros, a spokesman for the census. “We are disappointed that any organization would urge anyone to not participate in the 2010 Census.”

However, Rivera points to two worrisome precedents: the U.S. Census Bureau allegedly provided information to the authorities on Japanese Americans during World War II, and in 2004 it provided federal officials with reports on Arab Americans.

These assertions are based on a statement released two years ago by Rep. Mike Honda (D.-Calif.), who was sent to an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. Rivera released a statement last Sunday “applauding” Honda’s two-year-old press release.

(In an e-mail exchange with Feet in 2 Worlds, Honda spokeswoman Gloria Chan said Wednesday that the Congressman is working to ensure minorities are counted accurately in the census. “Rep. Honda’s focus in the past year or so has been to ensure that the Census Bureau has the resources it needs to count all communities, including language and ethnic minorities,” she said.)

Census officials have been reaching out to ethnic media representatives to prevent an undercount of minorities, and advocates have mostly sided with them. Some have opposed Rivera’s announcement. Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, said the call for a boycott “may be well-intended but misguided and ultimately irresponsible,” in a USA Today story.

The possibility of a population undercount does not sit well with local authorities, who need the federal funds that are apportioned on the basis of population figures.

Cathleen Gleason, a Phoenix city official, said a larger census count means more federal money for things like “police, fire, parks,” according to local radio station KTAR.

Another big chunk of it is for streets, so it would be for maintaining and building streets within the city, so, really all the services our residents count on would be affected if we have an undercount.

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