Angered by President Obama’s lack of success in legalizing illegal immigrants, some Hispanic activists are urging all Hispanics to boycott the 2010 census as a sign of displeasure.
Other groups have asked the federal government to suspend immigration raids while census takers are in the field, hoping that will make illegal immigrants more likely to respond to questions.
It’s just the latest trouble in what’s turning into a rocky run-up to the census next year.
During a congressional hearing last week, a Democratic senator told Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves that the American Community Survey - a yearly survey the bureau mails to a small sampling of Americans - pries too deeply and is so confusing that it appeared at first to be a case of mail fraud.
Meanwhile, a group of Republican senators is trying to have the 2010 census form include a question about citizenship. They are trying to set a precedent that congressional seats be reapportioned based on a count of citizens, rather than all residents.
The census issue is roiling Hispanic and immigrant rights groups. Major organizations and broadcasters are mounting a campaign for participation, but some activists argue that Democrats and Mr. Obama haven’t done enough to earn Hispanic support for the effort.
“The only thing left for the immigrant to bargain is something they want from the immigrant, and that is that the person be counted. If that person refuses to cooperate, refuses to participate, refuses to comply, now he has a modicum of leverage,” said Nativo Lopez, president of the Mexican American Political Association.
The Rev. Miguel Rivera, president of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, is calling for a boycott specifically by illegal immigrants.
He said a count can’t be accurate with so many people living in the shadows and that counting illegal immigrants inflates numbers in places where many residents can’t vote. He said he fears those residents who are counted can’t ever get true representation.
“The truth is that counting undocumented immigrants creates what we call ghost electoral districts, and that is completely immoral,” he said.
He said Mr. Obama has moved too slowly to legalize illegal immigrants and has instead embraced tougher enforcement measures.
“We’re the ones who are seeing what is happening to the members of our churches,” he said.
Mr. Rivera and Mr. Lopez are being vehemently fought by Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), who calls a boycott “nonsensical and irresponsible.”
“What they actually are doing is emboldening the very same people that are holding up comprehensive immigration reform, the very same people who would like to see immigrants leave the country,” he said.
Mr. Vargas said the census is the third part of Hispanic leaders’ longer-term strategy.