Latino Leaders Call for Illegal Immigrants to Boycott Census

The Census is known as the definitive head count that is supposed to reflect the makeup of the country.

But now some Latino leaders want illegal immigrants to boycott the national survey, claiming that being counted -- but not represented -- isn't fair.

"It doesn't make any sense, in some way it is immoral that we are counting 12 million undocumented immigrants who have no benefit at all financially speaking," said Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders.

Rivera, whose conservative group of evangelicals is behind the boycott, admitted that telling undocumented immigrants not to participate in the Census is a radical step. But he said it is the only way to make a political point to push immigration reform.

"We are getting nothing at all. ... Why not fix this issue, have legalization for every undocumented immigrant, no more undocumented people in this country, and everybody can be counted and everybody will have a fair share," he said.

But other Latino leaders say dropping out will only backfire.

"When we boycott the Census we are in essence boycotting schools in our community, and representation in our federal government. For those two reasons alone we need to make sure every single person is accounted for," said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

Local governments say they would feel the pinch too, since a false count would lead to lower population figures -- and the result would be a reduction in federal funds.

"If you are not counted, you just don't count," said Jose "Joey" Torres, mayor of Paterson, N.J.

Torres said the 2000 Census put his city's population just a few hundred people below a federal standard that could get his city more money. That means a boycott of any size of the 2010 Census could keep Paterson from reaching that threshold.

"It would be a travesty for anyone to follow that lead. I think there is a way of getting the message. I say there is time for immigration reform but this is the wrong methodology," he said.

Rivera said all would be well if Washington would just pass legislation to create a "path to legalization for 12 million undocumented immigrants" -- something easier said than done, since such legislation has stalled in Congress.

There's no way of knowing how many undocumented immigrants will ultimately blow off the 2010 Census. But Rivera has less than a year to spread his message -- Census forms will be delivered next March and are due back in April.