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Washington - U.S. Officials Worry Immigrant Fears Could Make Census Inaccurate

Published on: November 30, 2017 08:00 PM
By: Reuters 
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FILE - Director of U.S. Census Bureau Robert Groves (L), Acting Director of the Commerce Department Rebecca Blank (C) and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke stand beside a screen showing the country's resident population during a presentation of the U.S. 2010 Census at the National Press Club in Washington December 21, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri GripasFILE - Director of U.S. Census Bureau Robert Groves (L), Acting Director of the Commerce Department Rebecca Blank (C) and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke stand beside a screen showing the country's resident population during a presentation of the U.S. 2010 Census at the National Press Club in Washington December 21, 2010. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Washington - Early test surveys have found that some immigrants are afraid to provide information to U.S. Census workers because of fears about being deported, which could compromise the accuracy of the 2020 census, a government official warned this month.

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There has been an “unprecedented ground swell in confidentiality and data-sharing concerns among immigrants or those who live with immigrants,” Mikelyn Meyers, a researcher at the Census Bureau’s Center for Survey Measurement, told a meeting of the bureau’s National Advisory Committee.

The census, which is mandated under the U.S. Constitution and takes place every 10 years, counts every resident in the United States. It is used to determine the allocation by states of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to local communities.

Census employees running early test surveys and focus groups reported that immigrants had broken off interviews or given partial or false information about people in their households, Meyers said in her presentation, which is posted online.

“This behavior was an extreme departure from behavior that we have seen in the past,” she reported at the Nov. 2 meeting. “This seems to be related to questions of legal residency or the perception that certain groups are not welcome.”

One person, Meyers said, told government interviewers, “The possibility that the Census could give my information to internal security and immigration could come and arrest me for not having documents terrifies me.”

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to crack down on illegal immigration, and soon after taking office in January, he ordered stricter immigration enforcement and banned travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.

Census researchers said immigrants they interviewed spontaneously raised topics like the travel ban and the dissolution of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that has protected from deportation young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

John Thompson, former director of the Census Bureau said such fears could lead to an inaccurate census in which immigrants were undercounted.

“Underrepresentation of the census affects a lot of things,” he said, including the distribution of congressional seats, re-districting and the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funds. Most government surveys that discuss population rely on the census and the ripple effects of inaccuracies would be felt for a decade - until the next full census, he said.

Thompson said one way to address the problem is through more funding for ad campaigns and community outreach to educate people about privacy protections in place.

Michael Cook Sr., a spokesman for the Census Bureau, said that in response to some of the concerns the agency plans to hire 1,000 staff at the local level, an increase of 25 percent compared with the 2010 census.

“These partnership staff, they work and are actually hired at the local level to engage with the communities that we are trying to reach and dispel those myths,” Cook said on Thursday. “They help explain that the census is easy, safe and important.”

DISTRUST

Adding to the complications, the 2020 census will be taking place during a presidential election campaign, said the acting deputy director of the bureau, Enrique Lamas, at the November event.

“If it is anything like some of the election jargon and some of the things that were happening in 2016, it’s going to be a very difficult time to hold a census,” Lamas said.

Trump has promised to expel people living in the country illegally. In the first six months of this year, arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement jumped nearly 40 percent compared with the same period last year.

Some community organizations have told immigrants to not open the door to government officials unless they come with a warrant.

One Census Bureau interviewer said a respondent got up and left her alone in his apartment when she started asking citizenship-related questions.

Another described at the meeting what happened when she approached a cluster of mobile homes where a group of Hispanics lived: “I left the information on the door. I could hear them inside. I did two more interviews, and when I came back, they were moving ... (out of their home) because they were afraid of being deported.”

Even immigrants in the country legally expressed some anxiety to researchers. One respondent in an Arabic-language focus group said Arabs in particular were likely to be “scared when they see a government interviewer at their doorsteps.”

(For the U.S. Census presentation, click https://www2.census.gov/cac/nac/meetings/2017-11/Meyers-NAC-Confidentiality-Presentation.pdf)



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Read Comments (9)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Dec 01, 2017 at 09:09 AM georgeg Says:

I don't understand this system (you have to excuse me, I am in Canada). If the immigrants are not documented, are they supposed-to-be counted for such purposes as allocating seats in the House?

2

 Dec 01, 2017 at 09:12 AM Anonymous Says:

I don't understand. If they are ILLEGAL immigrants, how can they be counted in the US Census?

3

 Dec 01, 2017 at 10:39 AM yonasonw Says:

Reply to #1  
georgeg Says:

I don't understand this system (you have to excuse me, I am in Canada). If the immigrants are not documented, are they supposed-to-be counted for such purposes as allocating seats in the House?

Interesting question...so I Googled it.

Paraphrasing and shortening information posted by Central Statistics Office, I learned the following:

Census information is used by all levels of government, NGOs, businesses, researchers and others for a wide variety of reasons. These include planning for the provision of health care, education, predicting employment, transport, etc.

It is used to help determine where to build new schools, roads, health care facilities, child-care and senior centers...it also the means of measuring the exact extent of migration...by comparing the results of successive censuses, and taking account of the number of births and deaths that have occurred over the same period, one gets an accurate measure of net migration.

One of the greatest strengths of the census is the provision of detailed population figures at local level. It counts the number of people in each region, county, town and local area and this helps local authorities to make better public policy and capital investment decisions.

4

 Dec 01, 2017 at 11:07 AM Realistic Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

I don't understand. If they are ILLEGAL immigrants, how can they be counted in the US Census?

and why were the Black's counted when they were not citizens or allowed to vote? to give southern state whites more power?

5

 Dec 01, 2017 at 11:09 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
georgeg Says:

I don't understand this system (you have to excuse me, I am in Canada). If the immigrants are not documented, are they supposed-to-be counted for such purposes as allocating seats in the House?

Their children still need schools, so how do we know what amount to allocate for each district if we don't know who's in there.

We are living in reality, not in fantasy land.

6

 Dec 01, 2017 at 11:27 AM JaredKusherIzSorosPartner Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

I don't understand. If they are ILLEGAL immigrants, how can they be counted in the US Census?

Our Constitution requires counting "persons" ... not citizens. Legal, illegal or extra-terrestrial persons.

(Actually, it contains a formula -- non-taxed Indians, percentages for slaves, etc. -- modified later by amendments.)

7

 Dec 01, 2017 at 11:35 AM yonasonw Says:

Reply to #4  
Realistic Says:

and why were the Black's counted when they were not citizens or allowed to vote? to give southern state whites more power?

It counts PEOPLE...not merely citizens.

8

 Dec 02, 2017 at 09:49 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
Anonymous Says:

I don't understand. If they are ILLEGAL immigrants, how can they be counted in the US Census?

They are not.

9

 Dec 04, 2017 at 10:29 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #8  
Anonymous Says:

They are not.

Oh yes they are...google the census ignorant one.

10

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