Census Tries to Ease Latinos' Fears

Groups pushing for strong Latino participation in the 2010 census have launched a multi-media blitz aimed squarely at the traditionally hard-to-count demographic.

In 2000, the census tallied more than 35 million Hispanics in the United States, more than 12 percent of the population, but it's estimated at least a million Latinos didn't participate in the count.

Some struggled with the all-English form. Others feared their information would be shared with immigration officials or other authorities.

"Some of them may be a little bit scared if they're here illegally or even legally and don't want to be perceived as being here illegally," said William Frey of the Brookings Institute.

The census does not require, or even ask about, citizenship. All residents, legal or not, are counted. Last year, an effort to exclude illegals from the 2010 census failed, when a Republican-sponsored bill requiring verification of citizenship was defeated in Congress.

"The census doesn't ask you what your nationality is," said Elisa Alfonso, census director for the Latino advocacy group MALDEF. "It doesn't ask for your immigration status, and it doesn't ask for your social security number."

The Latino undercount in 2000 had an impact on federal funding for whole cities and states, not just Hispanic communities. This year, the 10-question census will help determine how $400 billion in federal funding for education, infrastructure, job training, and other programs will be allocated.

"It's been estimated that $1,400 per person is at stake," Frey said. "So add up the number of people in your community that don't get counted and multiply that by $1,400, and that's what you're losing."

To encourage participation, bilingual census forms, for the first time ever, are being mailed to Hispanic neighborhoods and Latino groups are holding informational events across the country to ease fears, which are not limited to immigration matters.

"The other concern that they have is if the information is going to be shared with a landlord or a creditor," Alfonso said. "And we tell them no, it's totally confidential."

Census Reaches Out to Latinos

The outreach effort is aimed at all ages, even kids, and the message is going out in innovative ways.

Cartoon character Dora the Explorer is featured in a public service announcement, which was produced in English and Spanish. Free music downloads are being offered to those who sign up for census information.

Videos featuring Latino stars such as Eva Longoria, Rosario Dawson, and Wilmer Valderrama are making the rounds on the Internet.

Spanish-language TV network Telemundo even wrote a census storyline into one of its soap operas.

"We can't put the blame on anyone else. At the end of the day, you are the one that determines the results of the census," said Alfonso. "You're the one making yourself count."