Census Reaches Out to Hispanics, Illegal Immigrants

The Rev. Miguel Rivera, the group's chairman and co-founder, said, "Without a promise of legalization and a new system to give opportunities to these immigrants to correct their status, we can't in good conscience ask them to fill out these forms."

Largest and Fastest-Growing Ethnic Group

About 45.4 million people, or 15.1 percent of the U.S. population, is Hispanic, making it the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, according to the Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey. Of those 45.4 million people, officials estimate close to 10 million are here illegally.

The Hispanic population was undercounted by about 3.5 million nationwide in 2000, the bureau estimates. Sixty-five percent of Hispanic residents returned census forms, compared with 78 percent of residents who classified themselves as "white," according to the General Accounting Office.

Perla Beltran, the Fictitious TV Census Worker

"The Hispanic community is a powerful and dramatically growing force in this country," Don Browne, president of Telemundo, said. "There are profound demographic shifts going on, so this is a critically important time."

To aid in census efforts, Telemundo, the second-largest Spanish broadcast television network in the country, launched an initiative in April 2009 called "Hazte Contar!" or "Be Counted!" Telemundo hopes to inform its viewers about the census by placing information on all its platforms, from the evening news to its online Web site.

The network even made one of its main characters on the popular Spanish-language telenovela "Mas Sabe el Diablo" ("The Devil Knows Best") an attractive young woman named Perla Beltran (played by Michelle Vargas) a census worker.

"There is fear within the undocumented and documented Hispanic communities right now," Browne said. "But this census character is a vehicle that can help change that by reaching out to both populations."

Browne said Beltran's job as a census worker will help show people how to fill out the census forms and let them know that whatever information they provide is confidential.

Nieto, the Phoenix Census manager, said it's all about spreading the word.

'Not Even the President ... Can Get Access to This Information'

"Probably the most important thing the committee is doing is making sure people understand that this information is confidential," Nieto said. "That information on the forms is not and cannot be legally shared with anyone. Any law enforcement agencies, any state or federal agencies, not even the president of the United States can get access to this information."

Despite group efforts, Gonzales of Chicanos por la Causa said he believes it will be difficult to convince many illegal immigrants to fill out the forms.

Some will refuse. "How can the census have the audacity to ask these immigrants to fill out these forms when they're not willing to recognize their status here?" Rivera of the clergy group said. "No representation, so no cooperation."

But Gonzales said the Census Bureau is just doing its job. "They're just doing the requirements of the Constitution, which is to go out and count every inhabitant," he said. "An inhabitant doesn't mean whether it's documented or undocumented. It's every inhabitant."

ABCNews.com contributor Maxine Park is a member of the Arizona State University ABC News on Campus bureau.

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