Census Gets Some Latino Help and Needs It

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

The census can be a hard sell in some Hispanic communities.

Fears that the information illegal immigrants give to the census could lead to their deportation is partly responsible for Latinos being undercounted in the 2000 Census by an estimated 3 percent.

This year, a prominent Latino evangelical preacher with a radio show in 11 markets is encouraging undocumented immigrants to boycott the census to protest the lack of immigration reform. And a Mexican American political organization has called for all Hispanics to boycott it.

Against that backdrop, a coalition of prominent Latinos kicked off a nationwide campaign Thursday urging people to fill out the 2010 Census forms.

The estimated 47 million Hispanics living in the United States make up the nation's largest minority group. As part of an unprecedented outreach to Hispanics, the Census Bureau for the first time will send bilingual forms to largely Hispanic areas.

A host of Latino organizations are telling people that the census will help their communities get more federal funds, could help them put more Latinos in elective office and could also help them gain more say on immigration laws.

"This is the most important census ever for the Latino community," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, in announcing the campaign: "Ya es hora. ?Hagase contar!" or "It's time to make yourself count."

The Constitution calls for a count of everyone living in the country once every 10 years. The census asks people questions about their country of birth and citizenship, but it does not ask whether they are in the country legally or not.

By law, census workers do not share information about any individual with other government agencies. In previous years, immigration raids have been suspended during the census.

To counter negative perceptions, the Census Bureau is forming partnerships with people and groups trusted in their communities. Hundreds of bilingual Spanish-speakers have been hired to form more partnerships.

The Spanish-language network, Univision, will broadcast a 30-minute program in late March that will guide viewers step-by-step through the process of filling out the forms. The Telemundo television network will have a census worker as one of the characters in a soap opera. Public service announcements will feature pro-census messages from well-known news anchors, sports announcers, judges and gossip columnists.

The TV programs amount to donated time. The Census Bureau estimates it will spend almost $28 million on advertising in Hispanic media for the 2010 Census, up from $19 million for the 2000 Census.

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