High-Stakes Census for Latinos Complicated by Fears

The majority of pro-immigrant groups oppose such a boycott, saying such an effort could hurt states with large immigrant populations which might lose federal funds because of skewed population figures.

"I identify with the frustration over inaction on immigration reform," said Martinez. "But to say that you should not participate is misguided. You are robbing that local government, that state government from resources when you say they shouldn't be counted. Participation is what changes things, not inaction."

Census participation is required by law and the Census Bureau can impose a fine of $100 for failure to register.

"These calls to boycott are irresponsible," said Gold. "[NALEO has] dialogued with [the boycotters]…but we have not found them particularly responsive."

Some Latinos Wonder if Census Confidential

Latino leaders say concerns about confidentiality of data collected by the census weakens participation in hard-to-count communities.

Clarissa Gold tells ABC News the "divisive tone" and "scapegoating of immigrants" in recent national debate is the "kind of dialogue that makes immigrants very, very fearful about how the information is used."

Commerce Department spokesman Nick Kimball told The Associated Press "all the information the Census Bureau collects is protected by law and will not be shared with any other agency."

Still, Kimball says his agency will not ask the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily halt Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids against undocumented workers as it did during the 2000 census to aid participation in the count.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told ABC News the development is "very concerning."

"The impact that any raid has is a chilling effect – that government is after you, hunting you down… Many immigrants don't distinguish between ICE, IRS, the census, etc. Anytime there's strengthened enforcement, there is concern that more people will go into hiding," Hincapie said.

"When you've got a community that is not trusting of the government to begin with, steps must be taken to improve that trust." Hincapie said the Center plans to work with its allies to ask the Department of Homeland Security to impose a moratorium on the raids during the count.

Optimism to Prevent Another Under-Count

Concerns about an accurate count of the Latino community partly stem from the outcome of the 2000 census, when the Census Bureau estimated that it over-counted the total population by 1.3 million people while under-counting Hispanics by 250,000.

"The over-count generally and undercount of Latinos was a double whammy," said Martinez of the blow a false count can deal to particular groups of Americans.

Still, Martinez and other observers are optimistic that the count will be more accurate this time around.

NALEO, National Council of La Raza, Service Employees International Union and Mi Familia Vota, a political advocacy group, are part of the widespread grass-roots campaign to highlight awareness of the census' importance.

Spanish-language media have even joined the campaign, promoting the census among their viewers. The Telemundo television network has written a census storyline into their popular soap opera "Mas Sabe El Diablo." And Univision plans to broadcast a 30-minute public service program in March, instructing Latinos how to complete forms and answer census worker questions.

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