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Hispanic groups call for Census boycott
Updated 4/15/2009 8:02 PM ET
Some Hispanic advocacy groups are calling for illegal immigrants to boycott the 2010 Census unless immigration laws are changed. The move puts them at odds with leading immigrant rights advocates and creates another hurdle in the Census Bureau's quest to count everyone in the USA.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders, a group that says it represents 20,000 evangelical churches in 34 states, issued a statement this week urging undocumented immigrants not to fill out Census forms unless Congress passes "genuine immigration reform."

Similar grass-roots campaigns are unfolding in Arizona and New Mexico to protest state and local crackdowns on illegal immigrants. Asking immigrants to be counted without giving them a chance to become legal residents counters church teachings, says the Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the Latino religious coalition.

When the Census counts growing numbers of Hispanics, the counts are often used to support crackdowns on illegal immigrants, he says. About 38% of the churches' 3.4 million members are undocumented, he says. The Census Bureau does not ask people if they are here illegally.

"Our job is to count every single person," says Raul Cisneros, Census spokesman. "We are disappointed that any organization would urge anyone to not participate in the 2010 Census."

Federal funding and apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are based on a Census of the population every 10 years. Not counting the estimated 12 million immigrants who are here illegally would send less money to states and cities that have large numbers of undocumented residents and could shift political clout elsewhere.

"We know it will hurt a lot of cities," Rivera says.

That's the bargaining chip boycott supporters are using to lobby lawmakers to issue temporary work visas for undocumented workers and give them a way to become citizens.

The call for a boycott "may be well-intended but misguided and ultimately irresponsible," says Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials and a member of a Census advisory panel.

"There is a sense of desperation and frustration among some immigrant rights leaders" that Congress has not taken action on such issues, Vargas says. They should give the new administration a chance, he says.

That is not allaying concerns in states that have imposed sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants or in cities and counties that have given police the power to enforce immigration laws.

In Phoenix, immigrant advocates such as Alfredo Gutierrez, host of a daily radio program on a Spanish station, threaten a Census boycott to protest crackdowns on illegal immigrants.

In Roswell, N.M., businessman Bobby Villegas launched a campaign in February to get undocumented workers to boycott the Census. He's doing it as the city nears 50,000 population, a mark that would give it the government designation as a metropolitan area, which puts cities on the map for national marketers and retailers.

"Are we going to bring more money in the community so that they can hire more police officers who then will go out after more undocumented?" Villegas asks.

The Roswell Hispano Chamber of Commerce he helped found voiced support for the Census, but "it's going to be very hard to reach these individuals and say, 'Trust me,' " says Juan Oropesa, executive director.

Nationally, efforts to have the Census reach Hispanics get backing from major Spanish-speaking media and organizations. For the first time, the Census will send forms in English and Spanish to about 13 million households in areas that have a high concentration of Hispanics.

Posted 4/15/2009 7:48 PM ET
Updated 4/15/2009 8:02 PM ET