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Saturday, February 5, 2000
Miami Herald
Eunice Ponce

Hispanics Urged to make Census Count

A group of U.S. Census folks visited a group of factory workers in Hialeah Friday, hoping to get honest answers to such questions as, ``How many people live in your home?`` and ``Do you know people who didn`t participate in the 1990 Census, and why didn`t they?``
One man admitted he lived in a house with 13 people, and another said he knew people who are ``illegal`` and are afraid the census information will be used to deport them. Still others said they never received a census questionnaire.

The day-long tour, including stops at the Hialeah factory and a clinic in Little Havana, was intended to target the Hispanic community -- one of the most undercounted groups even as the Hispanic population increases steadily. November 1999 census figures estimated Hispanics made up 11.6 percent of the U.S. population, and that number is expected to more than double by the year 2050.

In the 1990 Census, 1.8 percent of the U.S. population is believed to have gone uncounted. The percentage may sound like a trifle, but it translated into about five million people. Most of those were minorities, and 52 percent were children.

Simply put, Hispanic communities have a large number of immigrants, and they don`t trust the government, said J. Kenneth Blackwell, co-chairman of the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, a committee that oversees the nationwide implementation of the Census 2000 and reports its findings to Congress.

Many immigrants worry that census information will be shared with other government agencies, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
``Our job is to destroy all of the barriers to full participation,`` Blackwell said later to a group of business leaders at the Hialeah Chamber of Commerce & Industries.

Blackwell and state Rep. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah, explained that census information, by law, cannot be shared with any other public or private agency.

Later Friday afternoon, at the Dr. Rafael A. Peñalver Clinic in Little Havana, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas announced the next major census event, his unveiling of the Complete Count Committees on Feb. 15 -- the kickoff to many communitywide events aimed at educating South Floridians about the value of the census.

The committees will be made up of community leaders who can help reach hard-to-count South Florida communities.

``The census takes place April 1, and the information we`re able to gather during that three-month period will determine local, state and federal policy for the next 10 years,`` Penelas emphasized. ``What happens for three months will affect all the important decisions of this nation for the next 10 years.``

To get a more accurate Census 2000, the monitoring board has produced two informational videos, Writing our History, aimed at Hispanic communities, and On Every Street, aimed at African-American communities.
So far, the board has distributed about 2,000 copies nationwide.

Blackwell explained that, ironically, the hard-to-count low-income urban and rural communities are the ones that could most benefit from accurate census counts.

Census figures are used by the government to establish political representation and guide federal funding of education, health care, housing and social services. And those most often hurt, he said, are the children.
``The first place you see that is in the classroom, where census figures say there are enough classrooms, but you have overcrowded schools,`` he said.

Later in the afternoon, Blackwell was scheduled to meet with Miami City Commissioner Arthur Teele to discuss the challenges involved in counting African-American communities.

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