State Rep. Hazelle Rogers wants everyone in South Florida, legally documented or not, to be counted in the 2010 Census.
“I’m willing to put my name on the line to assure our immigrant population that they will not be targeted,’’ Rogers told members of the media during a July 29 press conference on the steps of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center near Fort Lauderdale.
During the 2000 Census count, fewer than 40 percent of questionnaires mailed to areas with high immigrant populations were returned.
In Florida, an estimated 190,000 people were not counted. If fear prevents people from filling out the questionnaires, which will be mailed in March 2010, communities could lose their fair share of more than $300 billion for schools, hospitals, senior citizen centers and other community services.
“Every 1,000 people that’s undercounted is equivalent to $1.2 million that’s lost in federal dollars,’’ said Hulbert James, chair of the South Florida Caribbean American Complete Count Committee.
“When cities are hurting for dollars, every dollar counts.’’
That’s why James and Rogers said they want everyone to know that individual responses on Census surveys, required by law every 10 years, are confidential. In fact, the Census Bureau cannot share an individual’s responses with anyone, including federal agencies and law enforcement entities.
Miramar City Commissioner Barbara Sharief said she wants her fellow residents to have complete faith in the law.
“Whether they are citizens, whether they are resident aliens or whether they are undocumented, the point that we are trying to get across is there can be a level of trust when the forms are filled out, and we should rely on our media sources to get that out,’’ she said.
Although language may be a barrier for some immigrants, James said, “The best way to reach adults with limited English is through the kids.’’
Therefore, the Census Bureau is reaching out to schools with maps, teaching guides and lesson plans to get children involved. James is also working on getting faith-based leaders involved, and is looking for places to set up Questionnaire Assistance Centers that will provide help in completing the forms. Retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target will also push flyers encouraging Census participation.
The 2010 survey is among the shortest in the nearly 220-year history of the population count. The questions, which might take about 10 minutes to answer, focus on household occupancy, gender and race.
Rogers wants residents to pay close attention to questions eight and nine, which concern race.
The survey “allows you to say, “Yes, I’m from Jamaica … Yes, I’m from Trinidad. These new residents want to self-identify, and this gives them the opportunity,’’ Rogers said.
“A number of times, because of a lack of sensitivity, people have referred to black people and interchangeably used African American,’’ James said. “There are people from the African continent who are not African-American or people from the Caribbean who prefer to be referred to as Caribbean Americans’’
But the No. 1 issue, he said, will be getting people to complete and return the surveys.
With high unemployment and housing problems, Rogers said, “It’s very critical that we engage every sector.’’
Patrick Jabouin, president of the Caribbean American Democratic Club, said he would like to see everybody counted, “not just Caribbean folks, but people in general. God knows we need the dollars to come to our community.’’
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. State Rep. Hazelle Rogers