What Debate? Latino Census Boycott Is Necessary Boycotting the census may be a radical approach to draw attention to immigration reform, but for many undocumented Latino Americans, it feels like the last option they have.
NPR logo What Debate? Latino Census Boycott Is Necessary

What Debate? Latino Census Boycott Is Necessary

Hispanic Americans — A Proud Heritage USA stamp. iStockphoto hide caption

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Hispanic Americans — A Proud Heritage USA stamp.

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For another opinion on this issue, read Hector Sanchez's take here.

April 1, 2010 marks Census Day — and for many undocumented Latino immigrants across America, the call to boycott the census is based on principle: immigration reform must be brought to policymakers' attention. It may be a radical approach — one especially difficult to understand or support for those unaffected by immigration policy — but the call serves an important purpose for undocumented and documented immigrants alike. The sadness and agony undocumented Latino individuals and their families endure is heartbreaking; it is my hope that through reform, their cause can be better understood and addressed.

The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) is a united effort of over 20,000 Hispanic inner city and rural churches that are enriched with integrity and committed to this boycott for reform. Our goal to draw notice to immigration reform through requesting undocumented Latinos to boycott the 2010 census is brought on out of necessity — without dramatic attention focused towards the issue now, there is no telling when significant immigration reform might materialize.

Pastors of small congregations in the "barrios Latinos" (Latino neighborhoods), for example, have an accurate read on what undocumented life is like and understand the consequences of discrimination. Current laws make life tremendously strenuous for undocumented immigrants — immigrants who want to participate in community and political life but are rendered incapable because of their citizenship status. Elected officials are only accountable for their voting constituencies and undocumented immigrants, frankly, cannot vote. It is excruciating to sit and watch these officials do little to assist, support or listen to immigration reform suggestions and demands.

There are those who argue this call for a census boycott will do more harm than good. I challenge them to relate to the pain and suffering of broken homes, the incarceration of mothers with their children, or the deportation of a pastor who has established a proven and beneficial ministry for the spiritual needs of a whole community. What is it like to feel exiled? To feel cast away, ignored and powerless?

Positive, constructive change is desperately needed — but it has been difficult to gain traction and attention on this pressing issue. We urge members of Congress to pass a fair, decent, and humane comprehensive immigration reform bill. Though such efforts have been stalled, we must continue to preach and insist: legalization before enumeration. Only after this legislative task is accomplished can a complete and accurate count of all the American population be achievable.

The Rev. Miguel Rivera is founder and President of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC). He lives in New Jersey with his wife.

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