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Please count everyone

U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves was in Laredo on Monday trying to ease some anxiety among residents there about the upcoming Census.

Border counties, flush with residents fearful of being turned over to immigration agents, are historically among the most undercounted. The Census Bureau ranks Webb County — where Laredo is located — among the nation’s hardest-to-count areas, joining a list that includes more rural places in Alaska and South Dakota.

Speaking to about a dozen colonia residents, many of whom only speak Spanish, Groves tried to allay their fears. He stressed that census data will be kept confidential and not turned over to other agencies.

“If the president asked me for your census form, I can say ‘No, you can’t get it,'” Groves told the crowd. “If I violate that law, I can go to prison.”

Groves visited the colonia with Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who said his district, which includes Laredo, lost more than $55 million in federal dollars during the last census because of undercounting.

An estimated 373,000 people in Texas weren’t counted in the 2000 census. Cuellar said Texas could pick up as many as four congressional seats if every household is properly counted.

There are many bumps in the road, and it’s not just with Latino communities.

The Census Bureau is printing instruction guides and sample forms in dozens of different languages for use in community help centers, since one in five residents speak a language other than English at home. But there have been errors due to poor translations, including material for Vietnamese speakers that describe the census as a “government investigation.”

The agency was able to correct its Web material two weeks ago after groups pointed out the problem, but it’s too late to fix the paper forms, according to the report. There are more than 1.1 million Vietnamese in the U.S., mostly clustered in California and Texas.

Other gaps included a lack of specialists for the Bangladeshi community in Detroit; the nation’s third largest Korean-American population in Chicago; and the south Asian and Cambodian groups in Philadelphia and Rhode Island. In Virginia, when groups cited a need for census specialists for their Korean and Vietnamese communities, the agency responded by hiring someone who spoke Chinese.

Responding, the Census Bureau has emphasized it is devoting a large amount of its $133 million ad campaign to racial and ethnic audiences, including television spots in 28 different languages. It also worked with more than 150,000 business and community groups, hoping to build trust in its message that filling out the 10-question census form is safe and easy to complete.

Those stories were based on a report released by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. You can read their press release here and their full report, which is summarized in that release, here (PDF). They express hope that it’s not too late to fix some of these problems. I sure hope they’re right about that.

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