Saying traditional census outreach will not be enough, Hispanic groups on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to follow through now on its pledge to pass immigration reform or risk an undercount of millions of people.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Univision Inc., the League of United Latin American Citizens and SEIU announced a grassroots campaign that would supplement Census Bureau efforts to reach the traditionally hard-to-count Hispanic community. An estimated 1 million Hispanics, or about 3 percent of the Hispanic population, were missed in 2000.
"Make no mistake about it: The census cannot succeed if Latinos are not fully counted," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO, noting that Hispanics make up half of the nation's percentage growth. "We are the future of the United States."
He said a halt to immigration raids is not enough and referred to President Barack Obama's pledge on immigration reform.
"That needs to be decided today, not in the 2010 census," Vargas said.
Ruben Keoseyan, publisher of La Raza newspaper, expressed concern about a mixed message where Hispanic groups work to build trust in immigrant communities only to have it destroyed if the government conducts a raid days later. "The federal government plays an important role in augmenting what we are doing," he said.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who addressed the groups Wednesday, stressed that all personal information in census forms will be kept confidential. He noted that Obama would soon nominate a new census director.
"We all recognize what is at stake," Locke said.
At a news conference, Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said they were opposed to suspending enforcement of immigration laws to improve the census count. They noted that Obama has a "bully pulpit" as president to emphasize that sending in the government form is safe and won't be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or IRS tax collectors.
"The idea that we would have ... border patrol, INS and ICE sit on the sidelines is not reasonable," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the top Republican on the committee. "They're looking for terrorists more than they are looking for immigrants."
Census officials have acknowledged that tens of millions of residents in dense urban areas -- about 14 percent of the U.S. population -- are at high risk of being missed due to language problems and a deepening economic crisis that has displaced homeowners. They are devoting up to $250 million of the $1 billion in stimulus money for outreach, including an additional $13 million for Hispanic advertising.
On Wednesday, Hispanic groups said their media and education campaign will extend not only to California, Texas and Florida, which have high numbers of Hispanics, but also to newly emerging Hispanic areas in Georgia, the Carolinas and Arkansas.
There are nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., many of them clustered in states such as California, New York, Florida and Texas, which stand to either lose House seats or gain fewer seats depending on whether their Hispanic communities are fully counted.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., who chairs a House oversight subcommittee on the census, has proposed the government halt immigration raids -- as it did in 2000 -- during next year's census to improve the count. The Census Bureau made such a request two years ago, but the request was rejected by the Bush administration, which said it would continue to enforce federal laws.