NEW ORLEANS — With less than three months remaining before the census forms will be mailed out to households across the country, many Latino immigrants here still have mixed reactions on whether the U.S. Census Bureau would be able to count every person in the Latino community.
"I think the challenge is fear," Olga Aguilar, a local census representative, said at a recent press briefing with ethnic media in New Orleans. This concern, she added, is greater for those who do not have the legal status in the country.
Ruben Beltran, the spokesman for the Coalition of Latin American Consuls in New York, said that many undocumented immigrants did not open their doors to census employees for fear of being arrested by immigration officials.
U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves, however, reiterated that all information placed on the census forms is strictly confidential.
"My colleagues and I have to abide by the law and if we divulge information to any government agency, we will go to prison," he said during the press briefing. "I could even go to prison for five years and could be fined $250,000."
Groves appealed to the immigrant communities to inform their members about the importance of being counted in the decennial census.
"We need people who are trustworthy in the communities they represent to spread awareness about the census and to reassure groups in the community that this will be safe, easy and important," Groves said.
Gabriel Sanchez, director of the U. S. Census Bureau's Regional Office in Dallas, TX, and one of the panelists at the briefing, said that he is working with immigrants in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi to educate them about the census.
"The first plus of being counted is that the government knows that you're here. If a community is not counted, schools possibly would not be constructed for the children or roads may not be built to travel on," he said. "The amount of benefits a community receives is determined by statistics and it is very important that Hispanics and all groups of people are counted."
According to a 2007 U.S. Census poll, 45.4 million or 15.1% of the U.S. population was Hispanic, the fastest growing minority group in the United States. The Hispanic population is estimated to triple between 2010 and 2050, meaning that 1 in 3 people in the U.S. will be Hispanic.
But some Latino immigrants here are hopeful. They believe that upcoming census will bring good opportunities for the Latino community.
Juan Miguel Sánchez, a Puerto Rican engineer who has been in New Orleans for more than a year, is excited to participate in the census for the first time.
"I am hopeful that with the 2010 census, the Hispanic community will become the most influential minority group in the country," said Sánchez, 24. "I hope that the government will take us into consideration when making decisions and allocating budgets."
Recently, U.S. Census Bureau officials announced that the government would use a new formula based on census results to disburse more than $300 trillion federal funds to different social services that will benefit immigrants and minorities.
"I see no difficulty with the participation of the Hispanic community. I believe that by including us [Latinos] in the count will bring us many opportunities," Sanchez said.
Brunny Rivera is a writer for Jambalaya News.
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