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To be counted or not to be counted; that is the question.
The Vitter-Bennet amendment to prevent undocumented immigrants from partaking in the 2010 census flunked last year, but a new report from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) highlights several shortcomings in United States Census Bureau outreach to immigrants.
The AALDEF reports notes insufficient support and misinformation from census specialists, including bad translations and persistent concerns about confidentiality of census data. Also, the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census, has refused to ask the Department of Homeland Security to suspend raids in immigrant communities as it did in 2000. While DHS has slowed down on large-scale community raids, it still raids immigrant workplaces and homes. No doubt, this has irked immigrant rights groups and roused long-held suspicions in immigrant communities.
There has been evidence that census data played a role when the United States government rounded up more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II. Although the Census Bureau today makes assurances that the information collected is confidential, given that bit of history, it would be disrespectful to disregard understandable immigrant fear of official statistics. At the same time, there are important reasons for immigrants to be counted.
With poor government outreach, even a one percent under-count means more than 3 million people missing, which typically translates into more people shortchanged in terms of political representation and federal aid. Census data is used to reapportion congressional seats in addition to dividing up billions amongst states on the basis of population. Giving less money to a state such as California or New York due to an under-count does a gross disservice to everyone in the state, and not just the immigrant population, since the state would face greater budgetary shortfalls.
Hence, tangible fears concerning the census do exist and merit more than just arrogant official dismal. Now within weeks of launching, the Census Bureau must do a better job of reaching out to immigrant communities while the Department of Commerce must apply pressure on DHS to suspend raids if they want to get the most accurate count of everyone in the United States of America. Mere lip-service just won’t cut it.
Photo Credit: Nathan Jongewaard