March 3, 2010 | Standard-Times | Original Article

EMILIO JIMENEZ: Step forward, be counted

SAN ANGELO, Texas — For more than a year the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, or Conlamic, has been pushing the idea that Latinos should boycott the 2010 census.

Led by the Rev. Miguel Rivera of Puerto Rico, Conlamic presents itself as a conservative Latino Christian advocacy organization representing 16,000 churches in 73 cities across 32 states. Conlamic Informa is the organization’s live Spanish language radio talk show broadcast in 11 major Latino markets across the nation where more than 1,000 radio ads have called for a Latino boycott.

The slogan for Rivera’s campaign is “legalization before enumeration.” The core message is the dicey claim that by boycotting the census Latinos can turn their growing political power into leverage toward new comprehensive immigration legislation giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to become citizens.

In efforts to shore up this strange idea, Conlamic sometimes resorts to washed-out fear tactics by claiming, among other things, that the census has an extreme liberal agenda in opposition to traditional family values, that its confidentiality assurances do not hold for Latinos and that responding to the census will result in more deportations of illegal immigrants.

The idea of a Latino boycott was a hot topic at the recently completed conference of the National Institute for Latino Policy in El Paso. Leading the opposition to Conlamic is Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Founded in 1976, NALEO represents more than 6,000 elected and appointed officials dedicated to full participation in the political process and to the progress of the nation’s estimated 45.5 million Latinos. Vargas calls the Conlamic boycott idea “wildly irresponsible,” and counters that participation in the census is a path to political and economic empowerment for Latinos.

As NALEO points out, census data are used to support programs like Medicaid, SCHIP, child care, early childhood education and school lunches that are critical for the future prosperity and well-being of immigrant communities. Census numbers are also used to help enforce civil rights laws and to protect Latinos and immigrants from discrimination.

The census helps ensure that all Latino citizens can participate in elections, it helps monitor racial profiling by law enforcement agencies and it provides language assistance to those who are not yet fully proficient in the English language.

NALEO contends that boycotting the census is like “robbing ourselves,” while participation toward a complete and accurate count is key to further building the political strength of Latinos and ensuring that communities have the resources they need to thrive and improve the future of families.

The Conlamic boycott idea is wrong because it would seriously harm the nation’s Latino communities in so many ways. Estimates are that Hispanics were undercounted by at least 3 percent in the 2000 census, and NALEO estimates that if the Conlamic boycott is successful the resulting undercount in 2010 could be 6 percent or more.

Tha National Institute for Latino Policy estimates that every undercount of a single Latino resident results in an average loss of $1,400 to help communities across the nation.

Yet there is one sentiment felt by some Latinos that should be trumpeted as they come forward to be completely counted in the 2010 census.

The popular Cuban-born columnist Miguel Perez put his finger on it in a recent writing about Conlamic. Perez reported that immigrants are saying they resent being counted “only when it is convenient for the politicians.” They say, according to Perez, “If you want to count me, I have to count all the time!”

In many ways the voices of immigrants and Hispanics, as well as those of blacks and the poor, too often get heard only when it is convenient. The irony, however, is that the goal of being counted “all the time” cannot be advanced by being silent in the 2010 census.

In fact, taking the census is one of few procedures in our communities and nation that works to count every person equally. It strives to do this with no harmful consequences for individuals and families. Census workers are sworn to strict confidentiality and questions do not ask for Social Security or driver license numbers, citizenship or immigration status or any other sensitive personal information.

Census 2010 asks only 10 questions and it will take only 10 minutes to respond. The census form comes in the mail and also is available at numerous Be Counted and Questionnaire Assistance Centers around the city and county. Forms are available in Spanish as well as English. Everyone must respond to take a step toward being counted “all the time!”

Emilio Perez Jimenez served on the San Angelo City Council from 2005 to 2009 and is a member of the Census 2010 Complete Count Committee.

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