News / USA

Latino Leaders, Census Officials Work to Count Hispanics

Latino-American family filling out census form
Latino-American family filling out census form
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David Dyar

Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States.  In the last official U.S. census 10 years ago, Hispanics, or Latinos, made up more than 12 percent of the population.  Their numbers are expected to be much higher when the government begins to release sections of the current census in January. Officials with the census say they face a challenge in getting an accurate count of Hispanic Americans, and they have launched a major effort to get it.

Many Hispanics are recent immigrants who work in factories or on farms.  Others with limited skills, often without immigration papers, work as day laborers.

But if they live in the United States, US law says they need to be counted.  

Representation in Congress depends on the count.  So do grants and loans from the federal government, says Koni Silva Botifoll of the U.S. Census Bureau. "The government will be distributing 400 billion dollars for the next 10 years and they are going to base that distribution on the amount of people that live in the different communities.  So if you don't count yourself, then your community is going to be hurting," Botifoll said.

A recent community forum addressed the issue. Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said immigrants have a poor response rate and many need encouragement to complete the census form. "Folks who have language obstacles.  And the city is 46 percent foreign-born and that has many of these demographic groups in high concentrations, it's really important for us to get that word out," he said.

Recently, Latino organizations met at a local high school to encourage students to help their parents fill out and mail the census form. A promotional video helps spread the message.  

Actress Rosario Dawson was in one video that promotes the census to Hispanics.   "I'm saying that this money, this opportunity that can be lost if it's not used will not happen to you again for another 10 years, 10 years.  So it's really very important that you make your voices heard," she said.

More than 10 million people are believed to have entered the country illegally, and many of them are Hispanic.  Although most are never deported, they face the looming threat of deportation.  

Census officials assure them that the data collected will not be shared with immigration officials. But because of the reluctance of Hispanics to participate, officials admit that getting an accurate count of the country's Hispanics is difficult, at the very least.

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