By Jacqueline L. Salmon
There’s a nasty scuffle underway between two major Hispanic Christian organizations over whether illegal immigrants should cooperate with next year’s U.S. Census.
The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, an immigrants’ rights group, is urging them to boycott the Census until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform. The Rev. Miguel A. Rivera told the Post’s Ed O’Keefe that he and other church leaders are concerned that the data could be used against illegal immigrants and their families. Rivera alleged that the data has been misused but was unable to cite specific cases.
But the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference has jumped in, urging undocumented workers to fill out those forms.
“The clear majority of Latino advocacy and faith organizations support the efforts of the U.S. Census Bureau to count each person in America in 2010, including the traditionally undercounted Hispanic population,” said the Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, vice president of social justice for the group, in a recent statement.
Members of Congress are trying to resolve the issue. Last week Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, chair of the House subcommittee on information policy, Census and National Archives, and Rep. Michael Honda, Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, invited Rivera and his allies meet with them in a bid to assure them that participating in the census is safe for immigrants.
This kind of fight is the Census Bureau’s worse nightmare. It already faces on uphill climb with Hispanics. Its research has found that many Hispanics “believe answers can be used against them,” said Frank A. Vitrano, a division chief at the bureau who oversees planning and coordination for the 2010 count. Indeed, while 77.5 percent of whites returned their census forms without need for follow-up during the last census, according to Census data, only 59.7 percent of blacks and 64.5 percent of Hispanics and 69.9 percent of Asians did so.
To combat fears of the Census, the Census Bureau plans to devote $250 million of its $1 billion in stimulus funding to encourage greater participation among hard-to-count population–about $70 million devoted exclusively to Asian, black or Hispanic media outlets.