February 16, 2010 | news-press.com | Original Article

Census tour allays Hispanics' fears in Immokalee

After a long day working in Immokalee's tomato
fields, Guillermo Ramos exited a beat-up bus with
about 50 other farm workers and gravitated toward a
blue tent across the street.

The tent had "El Censo 2010" splashed across the
top. Ramos, who came to Immokalee from Mexico
five years ago, had never heard of such a thing.

Ramos picked up a complimentary Census 2010 bag
and listened to census workers explain how the
count could bring more funds to Immokalee.

"I'm afraid of immigration coming if I fill the form,"
Ramos said in Spanish. "If they find you, they'll send
you back to your country and you'll never come

The 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour
made a stop Thursday in Immokalee to allay fears of
Ramos and other migrant farm workers.

Census workers explained they never ask for Social
Security numbers or whether residents are
documented. They also said they don't share
information with government agencies and that an
accurate count will bring more government funding
to Immokalee.

Photos: View a gallery of Thursday's census
campaign in Immokalee.

"We're reminding them about the hurricanes that hit
this state in 2004 and 2005 and how funds are
allocated by population," tour spokeswoman Helga
Silva said. "If you say there's only 300 people living
here and there's really 3,000, then the government
is going to send aid for 300 people."

Hispanics, who make up 71 percent of Immokalee's
20,000 residents, have historically been
undercounted. A review of the 2000 census showed
the bureau didn't count about 1.2 million Hispanics.

Just 69 percent of Hispanic households returned the
census forms mailed to them in the 2000 census,
compared to a return rate of 80.8 percent for white

Response rates for Collier and Lee in 2000 were 54
and 59 percent, respectively. That was below the
national (67 percent) and Florida (63) rates.

"When you think of the number of migrant people in
this area, 56 percent is unacceptable," said Richard
Rice, executive director of the Greater Eastern
Collier Chamber of Commerce. "We'll get it up this

Getting an accurate count could be more difficult
this year because of the nation's economic woes.
Because of foreclosures and job losses, many
families have moved in with each other.

"They're afraid to say there are 13 people living here
when the house was rented for four," Silva said.
"We're telling people that we don't share our info
with landlords."

Census workers face up to five years in prison and a
$250,000 fine if they unlawfully disclose

"I'm going to fill it out," said Sebastian Guillen Ferro,
a 39-year-old farm worker who visited the census
tent Thursday. "I'm not afraid of immigration. The
only people who are afraid are the people with
records."Ramos agreed.

"I think this is good because it helps the people and
all the kids," he said.

Other Hispanics are wary. A group of about 30
farmworkers leaned on bicycles about 30 feet from
the tent Thursday. They seemed tentative about
approaching the census table.

The 2010 Census Road Tour, which will be traveling
to more than 800 events nationwide before the April
1 decennial count, is trying to raise the count by
hiring local people who can relate to the

Juanita Mainster, Florida's partnership coordinator
for the 2010 Census, was once a farmworker in
Homestead and Immokalee. She said she was born
in the fields and was deported before becoming a U.
S. citizen.

"I know the hardships that they're going through,
the language problems," Mainster said. "But this
benefits migrant workers and nonmigrant workers."

Thursday's event included a Haitian component. The
census had several Creole speakers talk about the
significance of the census.

"Some of us don't mingle with American culture,"
said Chenel Pierre, who owns a social services
business in Immokalee. "Haitians seek information
from people we trust. That's why we need events like