Ariz. Immigration Law Makes Census Count Tougher

Haya El Nasser, USA Today, June 10, 2010

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Fear, mistrust, anger. The immigration law approved by the Arizona Legislature last month requires police to determine a person’s immigration status if they’re stopped, detained or arrested and there is “reasonable suspicion” they’re here illegally. {snip}

Whatever its future, the law could not have come at a worse time for the 2010 Census.

The once-a-decade government count of every person in the USA began in March with a giant mail-out. Seventy-two percent of U.S. households responded by mail–67% in Arizona and 64% in Santa Cruz County. On May 1–eight days after the immigration law was signed into law–635,000 Census workers nationwide started going door-to-door to every home that did not send back the forms. They will return up to six times until they get answers to the 10 questions on the form.

In Arizona, many civic groups fear the new law will discourage cooperation.

“I’ve talked to friends and people in the community, and they’re saying–whatever they think of the law, wherever they stand on the issue: ‘I’m not going to open the door to anyone right now,'” says Tucson City Councilor Regina Romero, who represents largely Hispanic neighborhoods.

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Many don’t realize that the law won’t take effect until July, when Census workers will be done knocking on doors, Cummings says. “We’re telling people what the process is, that confidentiality still holds, that Census workers are not police officers and are not looking to report anybody.”

Outreach to kids

A week before the school year ends, local officials are making a last-ditch effort to tout participation in the Census through schoolchildren who can carry the message home to their parents.

As students gather for morning assembly on the Pena Blanca school’s outdoor plaza, many sporting colorful hats and hair in honor of Spirit Week, the Pledge of Allegiance and birthday greetings are followed by speeches stressing the importance of cooperating with Census workers.

“How many of you saw your parents fill it out and mail it?” shouts Democratic County Supervisor Rudy Molera. “It’s really important that it counts everybody . . . little people like yourselves.” Figueroa tells them the school will get the balls and jump ropes it so desperately needs thanks to the Census.

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When the law was passed, “I was sitting here going, ‘Oh great. What’s going to happen?'” says Paul Fimbres, manager of the Tucson [Census] office that oversees many counties along the border.

He has a contingency plan for areas tough to penetrate: “In case that happens, we blitz,” Fimbres says. “We send 15 or 20 people or teams of two or maybe three.”

An economic hit

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“Undocumented people in the county are fearful and suspicious,” says Mary Dahl, director of community development for the county and head of its Census committee. “The timing of everything seems to be bad for the Census.”

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