Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Guest Blogger Series: Arturo Vargas: “Time to Stand Up and Be Counted”

We are witnesses today to an historic period in the civic engagement of Latinos in the United States. Latinos have become a permanent fixture of the American political experience, and the Census is an integral part of that. Every issue – healthcare, the economy, jobs, funding for schools, hospitals and roads — is affected by the Census. Most importantly, the Census is at the core of our democracy. Census data are used by the federal government to distribute $440 billion annually in funds to states and localities. Each one of us is worth $1,400 to our community every year for ten years, until the next Census, so every person missed in the Census means less in resources for schools and clinics, transportation and jobs. It’s like throwing money out the window.

In establishing our federal government system, the Founding Fathers determined that a count of the population was needed to see how truly representative the government was going to be, and that’s why a Census undertaking every ten years was written into the Constitution. In the past, slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person in the Census, and Native Americans living on reservations were completely excluded. However, now that all persons are included, we need to ensure all Latinos are counted.

In 2000, up to three percent of Latinos were missed in the Census, representing unrealized political power and nearly $2 million in lost resources to the communities. The Census is about two simple things: Money and Power. Two things that no one freely gives up. And two things we must insist our community gets the share of resources and political influence we have earned and deserve.

There are some who have called for a Latino boycott of the Census until Congress approves immigration reform. But that effort has fallen on deaf ears in the immigrant community because immigrants understand how important it is to be included in the Census. They realize what is at stake, and they understand there is power in numbers. That is something we in the Latino community understand. How can we tell Congress what we need if we don’t tell the Census Bureau who and where we are? The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund considers that the 2010 Census will be the Latino Census because it will be the first Census in the history of the United States in which Latinos are the nation’s second-largest population group, and it is the first time the U.S. Census Bureau mailed out 13 million bilingual (English/Spanish) forms to make sure ALL Latinos are counted. Latinos are 15% of the U.S. population and number 47 million strong. We account for 50% of this country’s population growth, and we need to be counted.

The NALEO Educational Fund, along with the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, Univisión Communications, Entravisión Communications and ImpreMedia coordinates the ya es hora ¡HAGASE CONTAR! (It’s Time Make Yourself Count!) campaign, which focuses on promoting the importance of the Census and educating individuals to fill out their forms and mail them back. The campaign is the largest and most comprehensive non-partisan effort to incorporate Latinos as full participants in the American political process.

A recent survey by Pew Hispanic Research shows our outreach is working. The study finds an overwhelming majority of Latinos – 70% — believe that Census participation is good for the community. The poll highlights that most Latinos know the Census Bureau cannot give out personal information, nor can the information the Bureau gathers be used for law enforcement or immigration purposes. Nonetheless, the poll shows a greater understanding of the Census among foreign-born Latinos compared to their native-born counterparts. The NALEO Educational Fund has said and we will continue to maintain that the U.S. Census Bureau needs to invest more in reaching English-dominant Latinos, especially as the Bureau moves to its phase of reaching out to those who haven’t mailed back their forms. We will be there all the way, making sure all Latinos are counted. We have a national toll-free bilingual hotline, 877-ELCENSO (877-352-3676) so that the public can call with questions about the Census and assistance in completing the form. Our outreach will continue through the rest of April and the month of May to help ensure we are all included in this very important decennial count.

Thanks to the American Constitution Society for sharing this piece which originally appeared in their blog.

Arturo Vargas is the Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a national membership organization, and the NALEO Educational Fund, a national nonprofit civic participation and civic research organization. The NALEO Educational Fund is the leading organization that empowers Latinos to participate fully in the programmatic activities include U.S. citizenship outreach and assistance, civic participation, campaign training, technical assistance to elected and appointed Latino officials, youth leadership development, research on Latino demographic and electoral trends, and policy analysis and advocacy on access to the democratic process.


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