Census partnerships promote participation among immigrant communities

Posted on November 23rd, 2009 by Alizah Salario in Business, Featured, Politics

Reported on Nov. 5, 2009

Census officials anticipate that an expanded community partnership program will help to make the 2010 Census the most accurate to date.

The Census Bureau is collaborating with local organizations and community advocates to raise awareness within East Harlem’s immigrant communities about the 2010 Census. Census workers and local nonprofits agree that getting an accurate population count is an essential move toward increasing services and improving the quality of life in East Harlem.

“This is an instrument or a tool for justice. A full count is the first step to making sure everyone gets their fair share,” said Census partnership specialist Andres Mares-Muro, who works in East Harlem.

Cecomex founder Juan Caceres and his son Ivan advocate for the rights of Mexican immigrants

Cecomex founder Juan Caceres and his son Ivan adovcate for immigrant rights. Photo:Alizah Salario

Mares–Muro estimates that the partnership program has established over 40 connections in East Harlem. Cecomex, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights, is working with the census to distribute fliers to East Harlem’s growing Mexican population. Cecomex targets local hotspots such as the 116 Street business district.

“I think it’s making a real positive impact, and I think it’s going to be a lot better this time around,” said Cecomex coordinator Ivan Caceres of the partnership.

Accurate census data could improve social services from senior citizen care to subway routes. The federal government dispenses billions in funding annually based on census data, and many non-governmental agencies use these statistics as the basis for funding requests.

“You justify giving or taking away funding through data,” said partnership coordinator Rafael Dominguez.

No one recognizes this fact better than Harlem Chamber of Commerce President Henry Calderon, who is pushing for an ad hoc community task force to address the census. In addition to census partnerships, Calderon suggests bringing information “to places where people congregate and gossip” like bodegas and beauty salons, or having social services or hospital workers who already make house calls deliver information.

“We need to bring it down to the level of the street,” he said.

According to a 2008 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, there are 12.9 million Mexican immigrants living in the United States, seven million of whom are undocumented. Census data shows that East Harlem is home to 25,000 foreign-born residents, with Mexicans making up the largest segment of this population at 33 percent.

Many Mexicans living in New York hail from the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla, where, for some, Spanish is learned after a first indigenous language.

“They’re more traditional and more unaccustomed to the way the system works in the U.S.,” said Caceres.

Immigrants’ non-traditional living situations pose another obstacle to getting accurate data. In cases where multiple families reside in the same dwelling, the head of household might be reluctant to record additional names. Mares-Muro emphasized that the Census Bureau is not affiliated with housing authorities or landlords.

Bilingual census forms will be sent out beginning in April. The 2010 census only contains 10 questions, and does not ask for citizenship status or a social security number.

Questionnaire assistance centers are available for individuals who have problems filling out the form. All individuals living in the United States during the census are counted, regardless of citizenship.

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