SALINAS: Getting Latinos to trust door-to-door census takers a difficult task

If you did not respond to the census form by mail before April 1, expect a knock at your door any time now. The census deadline came and went, but the counting has not stopped.

The U.S. Census Bureau has hired about 650,000 people to go door to door to the approximately 47 million households that have yet to be counted, because it's not an option for the agency — counting every single person in this country every 10 years is a constitutional mandate.

Census authorities seem to be pretty happy with the results.

Approximately 72 percent of U.S. households responded to the call by mail, roughly the same as in the 2000 census. It is in their best interest to give it a positive spin, since the census budget for 2010 was a whopping $14 billion. That's a lot of money to try to persuade people to answer 10 simple questions.

In this second phase, they're going to have to persuade people first to open the door, and then once they do, to trust the census representative enough to answer the questions. For Latino households, that will not be an easy task. The recently approved law in Arizona, intended to identify undocumented immigrants, has created a state of fear and uncertainty not only in Arizona but all over the country.

Many people don't understand that the Arizona law has not yet gone into effect, and that although other states say they are considering adopting similar measures, it will be a while before it happens. But the heavy anti-immigrant cloud nevertheless is hanging over their heads. And it's not just undocumented immigrants who are concerned with racial profiling, but anyone of Hispanic descent.

That is reason for concern in five of the most populous states in the country. New York, California, Florida, Texas and Arizona all were below average in the return of census forms. These states risk losing congressional seats or gaining fewer than expected, and it just so happens that they are the states with the highest Latino populations.

Census director Robert Groves thinks that factors other than ethnicity contributed to a low response rate in some counties.

According to Groves, it was the less-educated and lower-income homes that didn't respond, and the foreclosure crisis didn't help, either.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, thinks the "immigration issue" is, in fact, a major factor. Vargas has expressed his disappointment with the Obama administration for not putting a moratorium on immigration raids during the census, as was done in 2000.

In trying to encourage people to participate, the census has published information on how to identify census workers. First of all, they must be wearing a badge from the Department of Commerce. If there is any doubt, the worker must provide the resident with the phone number of a supervisor to confirm that he or she is in fact a census worker. Most workers will be people from their own community.

Also to ensure that everyone participates, the workers will be carrying cards with information about the census door-to-door campaign in about 50 languages, and if necessary will arrange to send someone back who speaks the language of the resident. There also will be an option to do the interview over the phone.

The questions are the same 10 that were included in the mailed form. Census authorities say there are questions that never will be asked, such as credit card information or Social Security number.

Anyone who suspects that the census worker is a fraud should report it to the proper authorities.

Aside from the political backlash, a lack of full participation could have serious financial consequences. Every person not counted means $2,800 less in federal funds for that particular county. No one benefits from not being counted.

Contact Salinas at

King Features Syndicate