Public officials call for community action on census

From L to R) NYCMA Executive Director Juana Ponce de León, Secretary of State Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez; Commissioner Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs Fatima Shama; New York City Comptroller John C. Liu and New York City Public Advocate Bill di'Blasio, at March 19 press conference. – Photo by Mohsin Zaheer.
NEW YORK CITY – Four leading public officials called upon immigrant and communities of color to fully participate in the upcoming Census 2010. At a joint press conference organized by New York Community Media Alliance, in partnership with New York Immigration Coalition, NYC Census 2010 office and CUNY TV, held at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism on Friday, March 19, the officials reminded New York’s diverse ethnic and community media and advocacy groups present that not participating in the Census 2010 will keep many members of their communities invisible at all levels of government and rob them of political power and their share in development funds.

New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez; Commissioner Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs Fatima Shama; New York City Comptroller John C. Liu; New York City Public Advocate Bill de’Blasio and Regional Director U.S. Census Bureau Tony Farthing addressed a packed room of ethnic and community media.

“If you are invisible in this country, you don’t count, you don’t have a voice,” said New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez in her remarks. She said an undercount would adversely impact New York State in terms of federal development dollars. She called upon the New York residents to fill out the Census form and to mail it back. The Secretary informed the audience that compliance by mail costs the government 47 cents a person in contrast to the $50 cost per head if Census personnel visit a home to get a count. For every person who fails to return the Census form, she said, the State will lose $3,000 per year in federal dollars.

She emphasized that participation in the Census is safe as its data was protected under the law and could not be shared with any other department. “There is no question (in the Census form) that addresses your status; therefore, the Census form is safe and confidential,” she said.

A large number of journalists from New York’s ethnic and community media attended the press conference. – Photo by Mohsin ZaheerIn a special message to the ethnic and community media, Congressman Charles Rangel, who had to cancel his appearance at Friday’s press conference because of change in his schedule, said: “More than ever, we need everyone in our community to stand up and be counted.” He said much depends on having an accurate count of who is living in a community – from lines of electoral districts, to the funding for programs and non-profits, to even business plans of entrepreneur dreamers. “I am so glad of our local elected officials and members of the media coming together to deliver this message and letting people know that their information – including their legal status – will remain confidential under the penalty of the law,” he added.  

Commissioner Fatima Shama, who made her appeal for participation in the count in at least five different languages, impressed the audience.  “The Census matters for the future of our city. It matters for the future of our state.”

She said the undocumented immigrants should be rest assured that their participation was not only safe but also could be rewarding in case of any future immigration reforms as their census data could be used as evidence of their presence in this country, and their good moral character.

In an effort to give a more complete picture of the importance of immigrants and communities of color to the city and the country, New York City Comptroller John Liu highlighted their political and economic power by pointing out the immense contribution they made to the city economy in 2009 — $215 billion.  

“We all understand where the immigrants come from and we also see that when the economy goes down immigrants are scapegoats,” said Liu. Echoing the other speakers, he indicated a proper count would help improve hospitals, housing and schools. “If you don’t get counted, you don’t exist” he said. It takes place every 10 years and it has an impact on the next 10 years.

“We’re all children of immigrants from all over the world,” stated New York City Public Advocate Bill de’Blasio. The laws, society and institutions can be improved through data collected during the Census.” He praised the role ethnic and community media was playing in mobilizing the communities for Census 2010.

Census Bureau officials, including New York’s Regional Director Tony Farthing and New York City Census Coordinator Stacy Cumberbatch, offered practical advice on Census compliance issues particular to immigrant and low-income communities of color involving multiple households at one address. US Census Bureau representatives announced the upcoming launch of two websites where reporters and community leaders can find out how the count is going in their neighborhoods, and where official Census count sites can be found.

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