Sunday, May 31, 2009

The 2010 Census: New Battle Ground on Immigration

The census has caused some fear among undocumented immigrants in he past. They ask: How's the information to be used? There have been urban legends circulating in the last few counts of la migra following the census takers to the front door. Yet the Latino community has been served well by including the undocumented in the count. The census is used first for apportionment of electoral votes, congressional seats and state or local distracting. The count has led to greater Latino representation in congress, state legislatures and city councils, and the electoral votes of some heavily Hispanic populated states contributed significantly to the victory of President Barack Obama. Since the 2000 census, for example, California gained an additional three congressional seats, reputedly because of the "inflated" Latino count; some other states lost seats. Another important aspect of the census is that federal and state money are distributed according to its figures -- that's money for school, mass transit, health and welfare, and the like. As a consequence civil groups in Latino communities have supported the census in the past, even for the undocumented, and this year are gearing up for a push similar to last year for voter registration. A good count means representation and need funds.

Churches have been part of the coalition urging participation in the census by the undocumented. But this year the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, a grouping of conservative evangelical and pentecostal ministers, is urging at least a million undocumented not to participate as to send the country a message -- that they are being treated unfairly with the delay of comprehensive immigration reform. This idea strikes more established Latino organizations as self-defeating. To many it like "stamping your foot" because your mad or shouting to the wind "I'm not going to take it anymore." It might make one feel good for the moment, but the consequence will show up later when the voice of the community is weakened in the halls of power or when the federal dollar does not come for early child education or a local development project.

Some look on the motives of the ministers as more sinister. The group is politically conservative and like many Evangelicals supported Bush and McCain in presidential elections. Some suspect their intent is to join with nativist to shore up the GOP. But it is gratuitous to question their sincereity. Nativists agree with them on principle that the undocumented should not be counted becuase they don't belong here. They tried in the past to exclude the undocumented, but were rejected by the Supreme Court. The constitution provides that everyone is to be counted and the result reported to the Congress. So far there has been little support for a boycott, since Latinos are beginning to appreciate their political clout and want to build on it for the benefit of the community. (See Los Angeles Times article.)

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