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Leaders, activists: Accurate census count of Latinos essential to Arizona

Arizona’s Latinos need to stand up and be counted in the 2010 census or face losing representation in Congress, a voice for the community and money for social services, a panel of elected officials and activists said Oct. 1.

“The census is an important tool that tells the story of who we are as a nation,” said Abigail Duarte, Arizona coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, a group dedicated to building political power for Latino citizens and immigrants.

Yet Latinos in Arizona have historically been undercounted, a problem that census officials and community leaders attribute to fear, especially over immigration status, and the language barrier, among other factors.

“We’ve always had an undercount in the Hispanic community due to fear,” said Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. “It’s worse this year because of the reign of fear Sheriff Joe Arpaio has created.”

Trying to dispel the belief that filling out a census form may lead to immigration officials knocking on the door, political and Latino groups and the U.S. Census Bureau are partnering with communities to spread the word that the census is confidential. Those efforts include public service announcements and community events.

“We’re working with community organizations like faith and labor groups, just talking to people and assuring then this is safe,” Duarte said. “If all these organization are coming together, it shows people that it’s important.”

States receive federal funds based on population determined by the census. Arizona’s average is about $1,550 per person, according to Kelly Taft, communications manager for Maricopa Association of Governments.

“By not filling out out the census, we risk losing millions of dollars,” she said during a phone interview. “It’s important to everyone. Some people aren’t thinking in terms of how does this affects me personally, but this money funds the vital services you and your family need.”

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski said every person who isn’t counted costs Arizona money for vital services.

“Those federal funds go back into our streets, our parks, police officers, firefighters, and it goes into the education of our kids and into our senior programs,” Nowakowski said.

An accurate count would also swing more political power to the state. Arizona currently has eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and is expected to gain at least one and possibly two seats based on the census.

“The count is important to political empowerment, specifically redistricting,” said Daniel Ortega, a director of the National Council of La Raza, an organization combating poverty and discrimination. “Everyone must be counted.”

Wilcox said an accurate count is especially important to the immigrant community.

“Immigration reform is on the horizon, and we must make sure we get the count correctly so that we can have a voice in the immigration reform in Congress,” she said.

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