The Senate this week confirmed Robert Groves, a former census official and sociology professor at the University of Michigan, to run the Census Bureau. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke pronounced him ''a respected social scientist who will run the Census Bureau with integrity and independence.''
The appointment will hardly still controversy over the 2010 census.
To guarantee the most accurate count of the 300 million or so Americans, federal officials promise confidentiality. But now a group of Latino clergymen is charging that widely published census data is being used to crack down on illegal immigrants. And they're calling on people in the country illegally not to answer the census.
"Law enforcement has been very effective in areas where the data of census 2000 has been used," said Rev. Miguel Rivera, head of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian
Leaders, a Washington-D.C.-based group of 20,000 churches, many of them storefronts serving undocumented workers.
Required by the U.S. Constitution, the census is used to apportion
seats in Congress. With residents leaving amid a fiscal meltdown,
California could lose a congressional seat. With new residents moving
in, Utah or North Carolina could gain. And, beyond the politics of the
thing, the census is also used to apportion more than $300 billion in
federal dollars to states and cities. So, high stakes all around.
Disappointed that President Obama has not pushed harder for immigration reform to help the estimated 12 million undocumented Latinos in the country, Rivera told NPR that he hopes a boycott will put pressure on Congress to do just that. "If they don't want [a loss of] funding for their constituents, maybe losing seats at the congressional level, then what they have to do is roll their sleeves and move forward with comprehensive immigration reform," he said.
Los Angeles activist Nativo Lopez is trying to convince the group he heads, the Mexican American Political Assn., to endorse the boycott. Latinos -- who helped elect Obama -- feel betrayed, he said, believing that despite great campaign rhetoric, the Obama White House is just continuing the Bush crackdown on illegal immigration while ignoring the impact of the recession on undocumented workers.
"There is no incentive for me to cooperate with the federal government to conduct this count unless we get relief from the federal government on the types of issues that are devastating our families socially and economically," he said.
In North Carolina, where a Latino undercount could seriously damage the state's chances of getting another congressional seat, Roy Crisanto, pastor of El Tabernaculo De La Uncion, a Pentecostal church, is telling members to join the boycott.
“The government wants to count people,” Crisanto told the Charlotte Observer, “but not give them the benefits that come with being counted.”
Other Latino groups are gearing up to fight the boycott, fearing that it could undermine the very count that helps the community with needed funds.
Arturo Vargas, head of the National Assn. of Latino Elected Officials, called the boycott "irresponsible," reminding his colleagues that an undercount would affect funding and representation for a decade.
"The irony is that the enemies of immigration reform, this is what they want," Vargas told the Wall Street Journal. "They don't want these people counted."
Catholic bishops have also joined the be-counted campaign. "It is important to get the word out because some of the populations we serve tend to normally be undercounted," said San Antonio's Archbishop Jose Gomez, an official in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "The U.S. Census is a useful tool for learning about God's people, who and where they are, and many other facts that shed light on their lives, possibilities and struggles."
Census forms are to be mailed out in the spring. Between now and then, look for this debate to rev up.
-- Johanna Neuman
Photo: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson speaks to Latino voters during a rally in Denver in October. Credit: Associated Press
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