By House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Rep Michael Honda, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
Every ten years, as long as we have been a nation under the Constitution, the United States has taken a census of everyone who lives here. The Founding Fathers ordered regular census-taking because they understood that, in order to govern ourselves fairly, we have to know how many people live here, and where.
Census numbers don’t just determine how many representatives states have in Washington; they determine the amount of federal money states receive to support the roads we drive on, the schools our children learn in, and the police and fire departments that protect our homes. Representation and federal dollars are both based on population—so if we want our communities to get their fair share, we need to make sure that there is a fair and accurate count.
Unfortunately, some people don’t want to be counted. But we want to assure you: you have nothing to fear from participating in the census. In fact, it’s sitting out that will do the worst harm. You owe it to yourself, your family, and your friends to stand up and be counted.
We understand that census worries are especially strong in hard to count communities, including the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The AAPI community is diverse, comprised of more than 45 distinct ethnic groups and a multitude of cultures speaking over 28 languages. With this diversity, the community as a whole has always been difficult to count accurately, and certain sub-groups have been especially difficult to count. The community also varies generationally, ranging from recently arrived immigrants to those with roots in America for more than one hundred years. In order to reach out to the wide range of AAPI families, the Census Bureau has announced that it will air television commercials in 28 different languages and consult and partner with 150,000 business and community groups to ensure a fair count. To ensure that hard to count communities are reached, the Census Bureau has in place language guides, partnership programs, and assistance centers to help non-English speaking individuals with their questions.
We’ve heard false rumors that the government will use the information it collects in the census to deport undocumented immigrants. But those rumors have absolutely no truth: no one has ever been deported or targeted by immigration enforcement because he or she filled out a census form. No one will ask you about your immigration status. The Census Bureau uses the information you do give to build statistics—how many people live in your neighborhood, how many are children, and so on.
Federal law strictly prohibits anyone from using your individual information. As the Census Bureau puts it: “It is against the law to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual,” including name and address. It is a federal offense to share Census information with others. Those who break the law risk imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $250,000.
Another misguided motive for skipping the census is the idea that a large boycott will convince Congress to move faster on immigration legislation. As the Rev. Miguel Rivera, a boycott leader, said, “We know it will hurt a lot of cities.” In other words, a deliberately low count would starve cities of the funds they need to provide services for their residents—and this threat would, in turn, pressure Congress to act. Again, that’s just not true. Political power comes from numbers, and that power will only diminish if those numbers are artificially made to seem lower than they are.
With a deflated Census count, the low-income and minority communities that most need federal funds will be hurt the most. If your community’s population comes out too low, and your fair share of federal dollars fails to show up, the result could be a bigger class size for your son or daughter, roads that can’t stand up to the traffic that drives on them, and too few police officers to protect your neighborhood.
Every community in America deserves its fair share for all of those services, and more. And figuring out the fair share depends on the absolute number of people who use such services, whatever their immigration status. Washington doesn’t want to take those services away from any community—but if you sit out the census, you’ll be taking them away from yourself.
To ensure that you and your family are counted in the 2010 Census, please fill out your forms today. Just 10 questions, 10 minutes – and mail it back. April 1 was National Census Day and a good point of reference for sending back your completed forms. Your answers are confidential, and your participation is vital. Learn more at 2010census.gov