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Immigrants Dilemma: Making Sense of Census 2010
It’s getting down to the wire - today is the last day to mail back the census form. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, every household in the country received a census questionnaire. The U.S. Census counts every resident in the United States, and is required by the Constitution to take place every 10 years. An accurate census reflects changes in our communities and is crucial in apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and deciding how more than $400 billion per year is allocated for projects like new hospitals and schools.
New York City receives about $3,000 a year in federal aid for each person counted in the census.
Decades-long trend of having the lowest census mail-in response rate of any major city, the challenge of reaching immigrants is particularly critical in cities that have received a record number of immigrants in the last 10 years. In New York City, the foreign-born population is estimated to be 37% of the total population. Therefore, it is no surprise that immigrants have been the focus of an intensive campaign by the government and private groups in New York to raise the participation level in what is known as hard–to-count communities, and immigrant communities are among the hardest groups to count.
A massive advertising and public relations campaign and efforts by community groups were launched to make contact with immigrants where they live and work. The Census Bureau partnered with community organizations who knew how and where to reach immigrants, including the hardest to reach undocumented immigrants.
Many people do not understand the census form or their legal responsibility to participate in the census. Census workers, volunteers and private groups have been working hard to explain the census and to encourage immigrant participation.
According to 2010 Census Constituent FAQs—“Individual census records are not shared with anyone, including government agencies or private organizations. It is against the law for the Census Bureau to give personally identifiable information about an individual to any other individual or agency until 72 years after it is collected for the decennial census. After 72 years, the individual census records are sent to the National Archives where they are made public primarily for genealogical research.”
Despite repeated assurances that answering the 10 census questions won’t be shared with other government agencies, the apprehension among undocumented immigrants remained widespread.
Community leaders and activists reminded immigrants that their information is strictly confidential and that, whether they are in-status or not, they all use the area’s schools, roads, and hospitals and for that federal funds—distributed on the basis of census figures—are needed.
Many of the NYPL library branches partnered with the 2010 Census by providing space in the library for census workers and volunteers to assist answering census questions and help to fill out census forms.
Rong Xiaoqing, a reporter for the Sing Tao Daily in New York, reported for Feet in Two Worlds a census promotion event that was held at the Chatham Square Library where census volunteers explained the about the census form and why it should be filled out. According to Rong Xiaoqing, New York City’s census mail-in rate may be lower than the national average, and immigrant communities may be among the hardest groups to count, but in Chinatown there is at least one difference this time around. In 2000, when the last census was conducted, there were no Asian elected officials in the city—now there are four. Pan, a census volunteer said “this is the time to show the government we have a big population and we are no longer invisible and voiceless.”
“Be Counted” census forms are available at various community locations for use by people who either did not receive a census form in the mail or who believe they were not otherwise included on any other census form. Be Counted forms are available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian. The form should be picked up and mailed back in the attached postage-paid envelope. The deadline for mailing a Be Counted form is May 1, 2010.
In May, census workers will be going door to door to count people who have not mailed in the forms, raising fears among many immigrants see government employees coming to their homes.
As of April 15, New York City’s participation rate stands at 63%.
New York County (Manhattan): 62%; Richmond County: 59%; Bronx County: 57%; Kings County: 50%; Queens County: 55%.
The final result of raising the participation level among immigrants in a combined effort by community leaders, activists and ethnic media remains to be seen.