Latino Clergy Urging Illegal Immigrants to Boycott Census

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 23, 2009

A national coalition of Latino pastors this week urged illegal immigrants to boycott the 2010 census until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, a move other groups criticized as detrimental to ensuring a full count of the nation's fastest-growing minority group.

The Rev. Miguel A. Rivera, chairman of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, which claims more than 20,000 members in 34 states, said that he and other church leaders are concerned about the potential for authorities to use Census Bureau population data against undocumented workers and their families.

"We understand that our undocumented people want to be counted and they want to understand the true American dream, but why use them as a scapegoat just to get money for our cities and persecute them or deport them after the fact?" Rivera said in an interview.

While he alleged that state and local governments have unfairly interpreted census data to target or marginalize immigrant groups, Rivera could not cite specific documented examples of federal manipulation or improper sharing, which is prohibited by law and punishable with fines and up to five years in prison, according to Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner.

"The job of the Census Bureau is to count all residents living in the United States regardless of immigration status," Buckner said. "It is safe to participate in the census, because we do not share the information with any other law enforcement agency, government entity or private party."

Regardless, Rivera said, "if comprehensive immigration is done before December 31, the census will be accurate, excellent, honest and everyone will benefit."

Other Latino leaders oppose the boycott, saying it could jeopardize efforts to boost Hispanic participation by reinforcing misplaced fears.

"I understand their need to ask the community to band together and have a call to action, however that call to action should not be not answering the phone or the door when the census comes around," said Maria Teresa Peterson, executive director of VotoLatino, one of several groups working to ensure greater Latino participation.

Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy and a longtime member of a Census Bureau advisory committee on Hispanics, said the pastors "are trying to find ways to leverage their position and put pressure on the administration" to promote and help pass immigration reform. Recent Republican concerns about potential White House involvement in the census also may have helped inspire the boycott, he said.

"A lot of us don't understand how you use the census to leverage politically, because a lack of participation takes away so much from the Latino community itself," he said.

The Census Bureau will begin a multimillion-dollar ad campaign early next year in hopes of boosting participation among traditionally undercounted ethnic minorities.

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