April 10, 2010 | GazetteXtra | Original Article

Extra efforts made to ensure minorities return census forms

The fear of having their immigration status revealed to federal authorities isn’t the only one some immigrants harbor when filling out U.S. census forms.

For many, “the biggest question is why? They don’t understand why,” said Rene Bue, president of the Latino Service Providers Coalition, a Rock County Complete Count Committee member and the bilingual outreach coordinator at Hedberg Public Library.

Outreach workers in Milwaukee found one of most immigrants’ main fears is having landlords get census data that would show too many people living in a residence.

“Immigration would be second or third,” said Elisa Alfonso of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund, a legal civil rights organization that partners with the census and has done outreach in Milwaukee. “Every time I heard ‘fear of immigration,’ (in the media) I wanted to pull my hair out. No, it isn’t.”

Efforts are being made from local to national levels to ensure minority residents understand the census and are counted.

The Constitution indicates every resident living in the United States be counted, said Lydia Ortiz, a census spokeswoman out of the Chicago office.

“Whether a citizen or not a citizen, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “We count everybody.”

As of Friday, Wisconsin led the nation in the highest response rate at 75 percent. Rock County has a 72 percent rate, and Walworth County is at 67 percent.

Twenty-eight languages have been used in census advertising, and the form is available in six languages. Area committees and service providers have been distributing census posters, fliers and brochures, as well as creating local materials.

In areas where the 2000 census showed high concentrations of Hispanic residents, the 2010 census has mailed bilingual forms for the first time, Ortiz said. A Spanish help line also is available at 1-866-928-2010.

Census officials are stressing to everyone that information collected remains confidential and within the U.S. Census Bureau, she said. All census employees took an oath when they started to protect confidentiality, and they can face prison time or fines if they violate the oath, she said.

Among the local Hispanic population, there is concern that information would be shared with other government agencies, Bue said.

“We of course have reassured them that’s not the case,” she said. Officials explain the importance of being counted so municipalities can receive funding for places such as the libraries, she said.

After explaining the process, Bue said, pretty much everyone has felt assured to fill out and turn in the form.

“It’s really been an opportunity to do some really good education,” she said.

In the Latino community, word-of-mouth is the best marketing, she said.

“That is how they communicate information” among family and friends, she said.

When Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund officials talked with members of the Latino community in Milwaukee, the fear was more centered on housing, Alfonso said. With foreclosures and general economic struggles, homes or apartments for four or five people were housing eight or nine people, she said.

“Their fear was that information would be shared with city authorities or with landlords,” she said.

Regina Dunkin, director of the Merrill Center in Beloit, said she’s heard people commenting they want to make sure they complete the form the right away. Others just have questions or don’t understand all of the form and need assistance.

“Perhaps, they’re illiterate (and it’s a) challenge to those people,” she said.

Others have heard the census means going door-to-door, so some people fear having someone show up on their doorstep, Bue said.

“Just fill it out … and you won’t have to worry about it,” she said.