[lg policy] Hispanics won't count if they boycott Census

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 15 14:42:50 UTC 2009

Hispanics won't count if they boycott Census
Posted by Ed Morales/ Star-Ledger Guest Columnist June 14, 2009 5:38AM

A battle is emerging within the Latino community over immigration and
the U.S. Census. Both sides seem well-intentioned, but their bitter
divide may cause more long-term damage than the debate is worth.  The
Washington-based National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christians, led
by New Jersey Rev. Miguel Rivera, is calling for a boycott of the 2010
Census by undocumented immigrants, who make up much of the coalition's
constituency. Its leaders feel a boycott is the best way to pressure
the Obama administration to put immigration reform on the front

Their slogan, "Antes de contar, nos tienen que legalizar" translates
as "before you count us, you have to legalize us." The coalition
contends that by being counted in the Census, undocumented immigrants
help Latino politicians and advocates gain political and economic
clout only to be treated as second-class citizens, denied government
services and subjected to law enforcement harassment. "For many
politicians, undocumented immigrants are just cash cows, and that's
immoral," Rivera said in an interview.

Conversely, Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National
Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials feels a boycott
would be a "phenomenal step backward in the strides we have made to
make sure (Latinos) are equal." His group claims Latinos were
undercounted in the last Census by about 3 percent. The boycott flies
in the face of NALEO's campaign, called "Hagase Contar" (roughly: Make
Yourself Count).

A recent editorial published in La Opinion, the country's leading
Spanish-language newspaper, called the boycott "a serious mistake"
that "verges on political suicide." Even a major Spanish-language
television network, Telemundo, is pitching in, writing a pro-census
plot line into one of its soap operas.

In the past, arguing over the Census would draw stifled yawns from
most, but the battle over the boycott is at a fever pitch for good
reason. The Census is used to decide the number of representatives
from each state, draw congressional districts and allocate federal
aid. It generates data used to create policy on education, crime,
health and the economy.

While the boycott faces opposition from some religious groups,
Rivera's coalition -- known by its Spanish acronym CONLAMIC -- seems
capable of marshalling considerable participation. A 2007 study
conducted by the Pew Hispanic Research Center says that 1 in 6 Latinos
belong to an evangelical church. CONLAMIC draws from 20,000 Latino
churches in 34 states (including over 600 in New Jersey), and has
announced that 1 million of its members are willing to joint the
boycott. That amounts to about the number NALEO claims has been
Rivera is dissatisfied with the efforts of NALEO and other national
advocacy groups like the National Council of La Raza and the League of
United Latin American Citizens, which he sees as too cozy with the
Democratic Party and the Obama administration to rock the boat and
push for prompt immigration reform.

It is true that, despite recent calls for action from Democratic Sens.
Charles Schumer and Harry Reid, immigration reform has been slow in
coming. But with two wars, an economic crisis, and a raft of other
foreign and domestic policy issues, it is understandable that it would
not be President Obama's top priority. The administration may be
hoping the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, New York-born to Puerto
Rican parents, will help mollify America's growing Hispanic

It also should be noted that CONLAMIC's Rivera served on the Advisory
Coalition to the White House on Immigration Reform under George W.
Bush. Rivera says he is an independent, and notes his organization
endorsed Obama's Sotomayor pick. But his call for a boycott, whether
intentionally or not, dovetails with Republican attacks on the census.
Just last month, North Carolina Republican representative Patrick
McHenry alleged that Obama's choice of Robert Groves as head of the
Census Bureau "raises fresh concerns about the White House's desire to
manipulate Census data for partisan advantage."

While it is true that advocacy groups and politicians show an almost
religious fervor to demonstrate ever-increasing Hispanic population
numbers, that seeming self-interest is hardly a reason to urge the
undocumented to make themselves invisible.

The bedrock of our political system and our democratic ideals is
participation, and even though allowing oneself to be counted in the
census is no substitute for citizenship and the right to vote, it's
one of the few ways the undocumented have to participate.

CONLAMIC's leaders are right to point out that Latino advocates and
politicians should not be satisfied with the slow progress the new
administration has shown in tackling immigration reform. But by urging
undocumented immigrants to hide themselves from view, they are denying
them the seeds of future representation and political participation.
In that way, they are indirectly denying them their rights.


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