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Illegal Immigrants Reluctant To Fill Out Census Form
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Illegal Immigrants Reluctant To Fill Out Census Form

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Illegal Immigrants Reluctant To Fill Out Census Form

Illegal Immigrants Reluctant To Fill Out Census Form
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There is an effort underway to make sure Hispanics are accurately counted in the 2010 Census. Phoenix has some of the country's ''hardest-to-count'' districts. Some Latinos, especially illegal residents, fear that participating in the count will expose them to immigration raids or government harassment.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Those counting heads for the 2010 Census are charged with counting not just every legal resident, but also an estimated 10 million people who live in the U.S. illegally. And regardless of their status, each person counted funnels about $1,400 in federal funding to local communities. That's why states like Arizona, with large illegal populations, are making the effort to count everyone. Peter O'Dowd reports from member station KJZZ.

PETER O'DOWD: Uncle Sam shouldn't hold his breath waiting for this woman's census form.

ORLANDA: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: The mother of two doesn't want the government - or you, for that matter - knowing who she is or where she lives. So we agreed to use her first name only. Nine years ago, Orlanda moved here from Mexico, illegally. And at this Palm Sunday church breakfast, she feels safe.

Orlanda lives her life in fear of an immigration raid. And if a census taker comes to her door, she'll ignore him.

ORLAND: (Foreign language spoken)

O'DOWD: People are very frightened about everything now, she says. No one trusts anyone.

Mr. ARTURO VARGAS (National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials): What's at stake here is the future of her family.

O'DOWD: Arturo Vargas heads the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Mr. VARGAS: Making sure that her children have the kinds of quality schools that are needed so that her children get a quality education. That the community, in which she lives, thrives.

O'DOWD: Vargas's group has launched a national campaign to convince people like Orlanda to be counted. More than $400 billion of federal funding for schools, roads and emergency services are distributed according to census numbers. And in the 2000 count the Latino community believes its population was underrepresented by a million people.

Mr. VARGAS: We're roughly 15 percent of the total U.S. population. An under count of the Latino population will mean a failed census.

O'DOWD: Politically, there's even more at stake. The immigration reform group, America's Voice, estimates that more than half a dozen states may gain a seat in Congress with a strong Latino count. According to Bob Dane, that's not really fair.

Mr. BOB DANE (Federation for American Immigration Reform): They gain seats and money because of their illegally alien population.

O'DOWD: Dane with the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He says the country suffers when undocumented residents have the clout to shape congressional districts.

Mr. DANE: It's insulting to the rule of law to convert domestic political power on persons illegally in the United States.

O'DOWD: For census takers that's not the point.

Mr. AL NIETO (Census manger, Phoenix): We are here to collect statistics.

O'DOWD: Census manager Al Nieto runs the bureau's Phoenix office.

Mr. NIETO: The constitution says everyone that lives in the United States will be counted. It doesn't say unless you're here illegally. It says everyone.

O'DOWD: Nieto has a difficult year ahead of him as he tries to count those who don't fill out the mail in form. In his office he points to a map covered in red that shows undercounted areas from the 2000 census.

Mr. NIETO: My area here is all considered hard to count.

O'DOWD: That's a big chunk of the city.

Mr. NIETO: It's a huge chunk of the city.

O'DOWD: Nieto says nothing in the form asks about citizenship, so it's worth participating, he argues, when millions of dollars are at stake for a single neighborhood. That's exactly why this illegal resident, named Daniella will fill out the form.

DANIELLA: Well, I'm not afraid, like most of the people are.

O'DOWD: Daniella has lived her for 14 years. Her teenage son, he's illegal, too. Lately, she's seen his school lose funding, community centers have closed.

DANIELLA: I know if I want all this resource I have to fill out that form. I have to make my son count.

O'DOWD: Daniella knows she's taking a risk, but it's worth it, she says. She can't vote and she can't speak up in the community, but she can be counted.

For NPR News, I'm Peter O'Dowd in Phoenix.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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