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In response to Nativo Lopez on 2010 Census

Created: 16 October, 2009
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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3 min read

 I would make just the opposite argument to Nativo Lopez’ call for undocumented people to abstain from answering the census. Mr. Lopez says, “Their resounding demand is – before you count you must legalize us!” Mr. Lopez seems to have already contacted the undocumented people in the U.S., a task which the census is ready to spend millions of dollars to carry out.

 How do we know what the undocumented demand if we don’t know how many there are in the United States, what their needs might be, and where the resources need to be provided?

 Mr. Lopez adds “non-cooperation” and “non-compliance” appears as the greatest leverage available to immigrants in their own pursuit of fairness and justice.  It is the equivalent of a vote abstention for those who do not have the right to vote – their vote of no-confidence.  Immigrants will send a clear message… “How is anyone to measure ‘leverage’ without numbers to serve as the fulcrum for exerting social and political power?”

 The history of the census reveals that we all must do just the opposite. I know; I worked with the Bureau of the Census for two key censuses, 1970 and 1980:

 Up until the 1970s, the population of Hispanic origin had lived in the shadows for decades. Its one reason, I believe, that we don’t know exactly how many Americans of Hispanic origin served in WWII, except that the figure was probably more than 250,000. We were an “extrapolation,” based on Spanish speaking ability, or place of origin, until with the 1970 census “long form,” greater detail about Hispanic Americans was made possible. I worked as a consultant to get the word out to Latinos to answer the 1970 census; I believe we learned more about Latinos than ever before.

 For the 1980 census, I worked to promote the census among Latinos in the Census Promotion Office, the first operational unit of its kind. I and other outreach people busted our guts to get Latinos to answer the census. The then Spanish International Network, led by Rene Anselmo, who realized the importance of the census—particularly to his ad rates—teamed up with the census bureau to run promotional ads, include the census in story lines and news programming, as well take up tons of network hours for special shows. Radio stations and community newspapers raised awareness among all Latinos in the country. Guess what? The numbers of Latinos counted jumped dramatically.

 As a numerical presence, Latinos have not looked back. More and more, the census bureau can make incredibly better projections of population growth and social/economic needs in our behalf; politicians convert those numbers to votes.

 The nature and extent of the undocumented population is probably greatly underestimated. I believe the conservative sector in this country is afraid to know the true facts. I believe that encouraging Latinos of any sector to ignore the census plays into the strategy of the radical right, which raises fears about these “conquering hordes,” but doesn’t really want the general public to know who they are or how much they contribute to the progress of this country.

 The kind of information the census bureau can obtain and derive from solid data about Latinos in this country can be a most powerful source for social and political advancement. Census numbers could jump again if the undocumented answered the census. What a powerful statement I hear our undocumented compatriots shouting: “We want to be counted because we count like anyone else!”

 One final note: congressional apportionment, that is, the number of seats allotted to each state, is based on actual counts of persons living in that state, thus they include citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and undocumented persons. No distinction is made of persons counted in the census figures used for redistricting. Every person of Hispanic origin, therefore, can have an impact on redistricting, program funding, and so on.

 So, I would say, answer the census. That makes sense.