In a display of political strength, four local members of Congress gathered at the East Los Angeles Library on Dec 12 with one simple message; everyone must participate in the 2010 U.S. Census.
Worried that their districts might once again be undercounted, U.S. Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-34th), Grace Napolitano (D-38th), Xavier Becerra (D-31st) and Judy Chu (D-32nd) said it is imperative that everyone participate in the federal government’s decennial effort to conduct a headcount of every person who resides in the country, regardless of their citizenship status.
“It is very, very important,” said Roybal-Allard during Saturday’s press conference.
“Filling out a census form is one of the most powerful things one can do for our community.”
Census data is used for reapportionment of Congressional seats within the state, local redistricting, and perhaps most critical to local elected officials during the current recession, the allocation of federal funds.
There is strong evidence that the 2000 Census resulted in an undercount of people living in Los Angeles County, possibly costing the region billions of dollars in federal funding for roads, healthcare, schools and other needs. Harder-to-reach low-income communities with large immigrant and Spanish speaking populations, had some of the highest undercount rates, according to the elected officials.
As president of the Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF), Martin Castro is determined not to see a repeat of the 2000 Census this time around. MAOF provides services in the local Latino community such as childcare, education and parent programs. To ensure that there are enough public funds to continue these programs, Castro joined the U.S. Census East Los Angeles Complete Count Committee. On the committee, Martin and other local community leaders will work to ensure that a complete count is achieved in 2010. One of the biggest concerns for committee members is the misguided fear of many immigrants that if they fill out census questionnaires, the information they provide will be used against them.
“It is very important that we encourage our Latino community, especially immigrants not to fear” the census, said Castro, adding that census numbers are used to allocate federal money for much-needed social services, childcare, schools, police and hospitals.
James Christy, regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, also said there is no reason for fear since census workers take a lifetime oath to not share any information obtained through the census process for any other outside purposes. Violations of this oath can result in a prison term of five years and a fine of up to $250,000 for each violation.
Christy said that this is also the first census since the inception of the Patriot Act, which does not include any provisions to allow information gathered to be shared with any government agency.
The census questionnaires that will be mailed out to residents does not ask for social security numbers or citizenship status.
“Not even the president of the United States can issue an Executive Order to get information,” Christy said.
Chu said that there are efforts to hinder certain populations from fully participating in the census. She referenced an amendment from Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) that would have required people to disclose citizenship status in order to participate as an example of some of the hurdles that must be overcome to ensure full participation. Chu said she and the three other local U.S. Representatives at the press conference were united in their effort to defeat the proposed amendment.
The US Census’ Christy said the Bureau is employing a number of tactics to try and make sure the undercount of 2000 is not repeated, such as increasing the number of outreach workers hired from 50 in 2000 to 300 for the 2010 Census, to work alongside mayors and faith leaders to increase awareness of the census. He said in the Los Angeles region, over 60 bilingual workers were brought on board. Also, for the first time, a bilingual questionnaire form will be used to collect census data.
As a sign of the economic hurdles faced by census workers, in 2000 the state of California spent nearly $25 million on census advertisements. Christy said this year the state will not come close to matching that figure. With a drop in public funds, the Census Bureau will rely on private and nonprofit partners. A major partner for the Census Bureau is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) that will serve as the primary educator for local communities during the recount.
MALDEF launched its national effort to educate the Latino community on the importance of full participation with the 2010 Census at Saturday’s press conference. As part of its campaign, MALDEF will host training sessions to educate local residents on how to reach out to those in the community unlikely to fill out their census form out of fear of immigration issues or other related concerns, such as legal problems.
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, identified four challenges the census will face. First he stated that the undocumented population in the country has grown since the last census. Second, the current recession has restricted the amount of public money used on census outreach efforts. He also said that there are organizations calling for a boycott of the 2010 Census. In the Southland, Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association, has endorsed a call for a boycott of the census by certain religious leaders in an attempt to force the government to address immigration reform. In a twist, this boycott has aligned members of the Latino community with those Saenz identified as the fourth challenge. He citied right-wing folks who aim to deter Latinos from fully participating in the census as the Vitter amendment suggests.
In response to the challenges, Saenz also identified several tools available this time around that did not exist with the last census. He cited technology, specifically the Internet, as a communications tool to help educate residents. He also mentioned additional communication avenues such as text messages and instant messaging.
Though it is understood that every census will result in some form of undercount, there were several reports of major discrepancies with the 2000 effort that led to local communities receiving less than a full share of federal funds. One such report included a 2001 study from UCLA researchers that found that over 170,000 individuals in Los Angeles County were not included in the final data. This undercount represented 1.76 percent of the total population, a higher undercount rate than both the state and federal rates. The “2000 Los Angeles Undercount,” from the Ralph and Goldy Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA, also concluded that the undercount was higher in neighborhoods with populations that are heavily poor, predominately minority and have a relatively large number children. According to the UCLA report, the city of Los Angeles had an undercount rate of 2.01 percent. Nearby cities experienced even higher rates: Montebello 2.05 percent; Bell Gardens 2.82 percent; Commerce 2.20 percent; and Cudahy 2.96 percent.
The East Los Angeles Complete Count Committee, organized by the office of Supervisor Gloria Molina, includes members of the business, non-profit and social service sectors of the community: Jonathan Sanchez of Eastern Group Publications; Gloria Chavez, City Terrace Coordinating Council; Frank Villalobos, Barrio Planners; Gustavo Camacho, Whittier Boulevard Merchants; Martin Castro, MAOF; Ben Cardenas, Office of Congresswoman Grace Napolitano; Richard Mendoza, Office of Congresswoman Lucille Royball-Allard; Jaime Rodriquez, Office of state Sen. Ron Calderon; Jesse Torres, Pan American Bank; Samuel Robles, NALEO; Lauren Perez-Rangel, MALDEF; Guadalupe Morales, AltaMed; David Vela, Office of Supervisor Gloria Molina and Benita Duran. For more information on the UCLA study visit, www.lewis.ucla.edu/publications/workingpapers/LACensusUndercount.pdf.