U.S. Census begins, officials work to quell fears

The U.S. Census is using advertisements urging all people to be counted.

By Adrián Castañeda

Federal Census forms are being mailed out today, March 15. It’s a massive government effort to count everyone who lives in the United States that comes every 10 years, and it’s being matched by an equally strong effort by nonprofit groups to ensure that even marginalized residents get counted.

In a country that once counted slaves as 3/5 a person and did not count Native Americans at all, it appears that the 2010 census will come the closest to counting all people living in the U.S. Millions of dollars are being spent to inform people of the importance, and the function, of responding to the decennial census – and saving the feds from spending further millions on door-to-door enumerating. 

Among other things, the population count is used to determine the apportionment of public funds to various communities and of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite all the immigrant-bashing by right-wingers who claim to revere the U.S. Constitution, that guiding document requires that all persons, not just citizens, be counted. It is for this reason that special care is being taken to include the historically undercounted communities such as low-income families, non-English speakers, and immigrants both undocumented and documented.

For Alex Darr, office manager of the San Francisco census office that covers all of the Mission and Bayview districts, the task is difficult but familiar. A veteran of the 2000 census, when some estimates say as many as 100,000 San Francsicans were not counted, Darr says the census has evolved in both form and execution. 

What used to be a multi-page document with as many as 52 questions per person has now been whittled down to just 10. “Ten questions in ten minutes, we like to say around here,” says Darr. The questions are of the most basic sort, requesting the age, sex and race of every member of a household. It does not ask about citizenship. Even more reassuring to immigrants, 2010 is the first census that will be available en Español. Spanish language forms will be arriving in the Mission, but that and the laws that require participation may not be enough to encourage people to respond.

 The U.S. Census Bureau is actively recruiting bilingual speakers to work in the Mission and educate residents of the importance of the census for things like social services and infrastructure. Employing residents of the area, Darr says, will reassure people that responding to the census is not a risk when census-takers begin knocking on doors in late May because, “it’s easier to hear this from your neighbor.”

A document released by the census bureau estimates that for each percentage point of the population that does not return its census form by the April 14th deadline, the government will spend $80-90 million sending out census-takers to visit homes. Darr says that his office’s efforts will, “save [residents] some trouble, save the government some money as well.” San Francisco’s census-takers, with a starting salary of $22 per hour, will be among the highest paid in the country.

In addition to the boost in recruitment, Darr’s office has teamed up with a variety of community organizations to form the Mission Complete Count Committee and build on the existing relationships with residents. Rosario Anaya of the Mission Language and Vocational School (MLDS) says students at the center are being urged to pass on information about the census to their families and the building is being used as a training center for census workers. Anaya says the response has been good but there is hesitation. Some residents have told her, “We get counted but there’s no services coming back to us.”

Joel Aguiar of the SF Day Laborer program says his group trained day laborers and domestic workers to go out and engage their friends in discussion about the census. “When they think of the census, they’re not going to think of somebody knocking on their door,” Aguiar says of their program. Many of the workers are worried that by responding to the census, they would put their housing at risk by inadvertently revealing to the landlord or housing authorities how many live in their crowded homes.

But Aguiar says the laborers found that, “really a lot of their fears are unfounded.” Many of the community groups in the Mission will also be hosting Questionnaire Assistance Centers starting March 19th, with multilingual staffs to help anyone who needs help filling out forms. Information on individual QAC sites and much more on the census will be printed in El Tecolote’s late March issue.

MLDS is one of several groups who participated in conjunction with the city and the SF Recreation and Parks Department in a community soccer tournament over the weekend at Garfield Park. The tournament featured both adult and children’s teams representing the various social justice groups as well as a team fielded by the census bureau. Aguiar says the soccer games strengthened the census education effort by “associating it with something which is already a community event.”

The Mission is also home to a number of single room occupancy hotels, or SROs, that are another community that was vastly undercounted by the last census. “Many SROs don’t have buzzers, have absent managers, or have managers who will not let us in,” says Kendra Froshman of the Mission SRO Collaborative. In response, the Mission SRO has joined a citywide coalition formed by the Community Housing Partnership to push for legislation that would change SRO visitor policies to allow census workers to enter.

The Mission is not the only area on Darr’s agenda. While citizenship is not a major issue in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, investigation into the low mail-back rate after the 2000 census found that many residents did not return their forms simply because they did not have a mailbox on their street. It remains unclear if mailbox distribution is one of the many things the government uses census data to calculate, but for the 2010 census, the Postal Service and the Housing Authority have set up various locations in the neighborhood where people can drop off their completed forms to be mailed.

“We are starting at a new beginning point for people to understand the importance of being counted,” Bayview Census representative Omar Khalif says of the outreach effort he has been working on since last July. Khalif attributes the low return rate to misinformation, saying many of the people in the area are hesitant to divulge personal information to the government despite being on government assistance and living in government housing.

As part of the effort, many different groups, such as the SF Housing Development Corporation, have come together to form the Bayview Complete Count Committee and host a series of community events such as a Gospel feast on March 28, giving residents a chance to win prizes for turning in their forms early. Flyers posted in community centers urge residents that being counted could mean thousands of government dollars in funding for their neighborhood. Working with all the established groups has given the census office better access to an often-disenfranchised community, Khalif says: “This is something that benefits us as a whole.”

The first census since the 9/11 attacks and the federal government crackdown that followed has many has many people understandably worried about giving too much personal information to the government. Census data is used by a variety of government agencies as well as private entities for everything from allocating federal funds to academic research and even advertising.

Many undocumented people fear that participating in the Census will tip off ICE agents. However, personal census information, including names, is strictly confidential even to other agencies within the government. "If the president asked me for your census form, I can say 'No, you can't get it,'" U.S. Census Bureau Director, Robert Groves recently told a crowd of immigrants in a Texas bordertown.

The long form of the 2000 census asked a variety of questions including employment, living expenses, and citizenship. These questions are now found on the American Community Survey (ACS), which is sent out every year to a small percentage of homes and gives the Department of Commerce more up to date and in depth data on how Americans live. Yet fears on both sides of the issue persist.

Some Latino advocacy groups such as the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders (CONLAMIC) have launched a campaign urging Latinos to boycott the census until Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform. “Before you count us you must legalize us,” proclaims the president and founder of CONLAMIC, Rev. Miguel Angel Rivera, on his website. Similarly, several conservative politicians have spoken out about counting non-citizens, as it will shift Congressional power and federal money to areas with high populations of immigrants.

Conservative U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-Minnesota) briefly called for a boycott of the census, saying on air that the survey is intrusive but does not ask the right questions. “This would be your perfect opportunity to find out how many illegal aliens are in [the] United States,” she suggested. She also cited the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II as a misuse of Census data. Census Bureau officials have stated that the USA Patriot Act does not override the explicit, legally mandated confidentiality of the census. Government assurances do little to quell public fears, but it is possible that the boots on the ground work done by census takers and their partners in the various community groups around the city will make the 23rd census a success.


I refuse to answer more then 4 people live in my house (2 adults and 2 minors under age 18). What more does the Constitution require? Actually this is not even necessary and Representatives should probably be calculated by registered voters not by all population. Oh yes but somehow the Federal Government needs this for my local schools?

I wont even get into the racial question asked about if you are Mexican, Spanish, Cuban or in the next question where the white, Asian and everyone else has there own segregated question. What does this matter and why is this information of interest to the Federal Government. I thought that equal rights was accomplished before I was born in the late 60's and asking/poking into people's ethnicity is just plane wrong in this day in age. NOTFB><

So bring on the fines and punishment!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2010 @ 2:37 pm

You can't use the voter rolls to count people for some obvious reasons:

1) People under 18 can't vote
2) Resident aliens can't vote
3) Various felons can't vote
4) Registering to vote is optional; many don't do it.

The results would be hopelessly misleading.

It's my understanding that race isn't a question this time around, although census forms are being distributed in Spanish. Apparently it is a much simpler form than in previous years.

Posted by Tom Foolery on Mar. 15, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

The US Government lies to us all the time. Just how they used the US census, to locate and place into detention Japanese-Americans during the Second world war. It could be that this Decennial Census in reality is to seek out illegal aliens and deport them home?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 15, 2010 @ 7:06 pm

However, personal census information, including names, is strictly confidential even to other agencies within the government. "If the president asked me for your census form, I can say 'No, you can't get it,'" U.S. Census Bureau Director, Robert Groves recently told a crowd of immigrants in a Texas bordertown.

Does anyone really believe that to be true? I don't believe it at all. Assuming one has been paying close attention since 2000 to politics at the federal level (in particular), who in their right mind would trust this corrupt, sleazy, barbaric, pro-war, pro-corporate, fascist government on anything? Anyone heard of that HOMELAND (In)Security nonsense? How about the fascist USA "Patriot" Act which shreds the US Constitution? That despicable Bush thing (the USA "Patriot" Act) was just extended for another year by the D and R congress and signed by Mr "Hope" and "Change we can believe in" Obama. The ICE raids are continuing under Mr "Change."

Whatever this government says, the opposite is the truth, except in a case such as this: If they were to say, "We plan to drone Pakistan..." You can believe that to be true. Exporting death and killing is a lead export for this nation.

Posted by Sam on Mar. 15, 2010 @ 11:55 pm

I think no matter what we do the fed govt already is keeping tabs on us. So count me in if it will mean more federal dollars to this beleaguered state. We need the $$! Unfortunately, ICE will continue to find ways to deport illegal aliens. This will continue until the economy improves and the right will stop using immigrant workers, legal or illegal, as scapegoats for the rise in unemployment. Who they should really deport is all those investment and loan bankers that have caused this mortgage banking debacle! Or at least put them on the front lines coffee stewards in Afghanistan!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 16, 2010 @ 9:52 am

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised by these paranoid comments, but I am. Listen, I'm as skeptical of the federal government as anyone, but the very notion of representative democracy and equitable disbursement of federal funds relies on an accurate census. There are explicit guarantees that census forms can't be used against us, including a ban on using that info as evidence in court. The forms do ask our race, but why do people think that's such a problem? C'mon, people, let's not let paranoia totally overwhelm our sense of reason. And please don't let the anti-immigrant trolls sow fears in our immigrant communities, which I'm sure they'll try to do.

Posted by steven on Mar. 16, 2010 @ 11:01 am

On many sites, I read the language "illegal aliens." I find that language repulsive, offensive and disgusting. And I don't care which government officially uses. It's disgusting.

No human being is illegal or an alien. We are all citizens on this planet together. That language usually comes from the rabid regressives, but I have seen some so-called "progressives" mindlessly use it and they end up sounding as hateful as the rabid regressives.

Some people are documented. Some are undocumented. I have a lot of respect for migrant workers because they are just trying to survive and feed themselves and their familes...the same thing any intelligent person would do if one were in their same situation. What goes around comes around. Should there be a major natural disaster here in the States and a large population is forced to leave, where would people go? Either to Canada or México. THEN who would be the "illegal alien?"

And I've yet to see one space ship for these "aliens" that some people thrive on hating.

I thank all people for their contributions to this nation, whether they are undocumented or documented. Muchisimas Gracias.

I'd like for the trolls/haters to explain who will pick their food for them once they've achieved their goal of removing all undocumented immigrants from this nation? Then suddenly, they will want special visas to bring in undocumented workers....because the trolls/haters are special. They think they shouldn't have to pay full price for *their* food.

Posted by Sam on Mar. 16, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

After all your complaining about your regressive's and whatnot, I harken back to your comment.

"I agree. Unfortunately, many people need a "scapegoat"..."

I also find it interesting that the left still claims Orwell, your complaining that you (and so many others) don't like certain common and correct usage of language is interesting.

I wonder, do you call a late term abortion a "partial birth abortion," I can't imagine why you don't?

And who will pick the food, well I'll leave that to Cesar Chavez

"Our potential competition appears almost unlimited as thousands upon thousands of green carders pour across the border during peak harvest seasons. These are people who, though lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, have not now, and probably never had, any bona fide intention of making the United States of America their permanent home. They come here to earn American dollars to spend in Mexico where the cost of living is lower. They are natural economic rivals of those who become American citizens or who otherwise decide to stake out their future in this country. In abolishing the bracero program, Congress has but scotched the snake, not killed it. The program lives on in the annual parade of thousands of illegal and green carders across the United States-Mexico border to work in our fields. To achieve law and order in any phase of human activity, legislators must pay need to other laws not made by man, one of which is the economic law of supply and demand. We are asking Congress to pay heed to this law in the light of some hard facts about farm labor supply along our southern border. Otherwise, extension of [the National Labors Relations Act] coverage to farm workers in that part of the country will not produce much law and order. What we ask is some way to keep the illegals and green carders from breaking strikes; some civil remedy against growers who employ behind our picket lines those who have entered the United States illegally, and, likewise those green carders who have not permanently moved their residence and domicile to the United States"

Posted by glen matlock on Mar. 16, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

Yes everyone is a "citizen" of the planet Earth with certain human rights, if only they paid taxes like every other citizen of an individual country. Why should any single person recieve any type of governmental assistance in any country, if they're not willing to join that country and be a lawfull citizen by paying taxes then they don't deserve any type of assistance at all. I live in New Mexico, and this is the worst state I have seen so far when it comes to illigal aliens. I personally know of about 50 plus people who recieve state and government assistance and laugh about it to other people. Most of them don't realize that I can understand spanish aand they say the most terrible things about th U.S.A. and then get real scared and hurry away when I say something in spanish and look directly at them. From now on mabe I should start taking down licence plate numbers and call them in to the government. OH, wait, we tried that, guess what, the government will tell you what they told me, "You need proof". Well guess what, a person telling you that they're illigal isn't proof, and they illigals get lawyer advice here from some group that's mailed to anyone with a mexican name, my bother-in-law, he's from mexico, told me it's a packet that explains in detail in, spanish only, how to sign up for all kinds of public state and federal aid and exactly what to say and what to lie about to recieve it.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 17, 2010 @ 2:50 pm


"Alien" is the official term for anyone who is not a U.S. citizen. So it's not a euphemism or slur used by "rabid right-wingers". it's the official designation by the U.S. government. A Green Card actually says "Resident Alien" on it.

I agree it's an ugly word that I'd also more normally associate more with a being from outer space. But nonetheless, it is the official term.

As for the qualifier "illegal", it is also the correct term to use of anyone who breaks the law which includes anyone entering the U.S. "illegally". It's the phrase the Supreme Court uses. Having said that, we don't talk about "illegal bank robbers" or "illegal murderers". It's assumed.

But in terms of aliens, we want to differentiate those who pass through the correct procedures and those who don't. And "undocumented migrant" is too much of a euphemism for most folks. Someone who steals across the border isn't a migrant any more than a mugger is an "unlicensed charity".

But of course the better question here is whether you support the breaking of immigration laws. You should be clear about that regardless of what we call these people.

Posted by Tom Foolery on Mar. 17, 2010 @ 7:24 am

Well, they should change the terminology. They are still deserving of human rights and if the USA claims to be the beacon of liberty then they should start giving the backbone of our economy the dignity they deserve. When they're gone, who will provide the impetus for agriculture and Southwestern economy? I thought so.

Posted by Sam on Mar. 22, 2010 @ 3:22 pm


How about U.S. Citizens? Oh wait, we won't work for pennies an hour. These people are abused and taken advantage of by the greedy.

I hate the saying "They do jobs Americans won't do.", that is utter crap. Who do you think did those jobs before the horde of illegal immigrants crossed the border? They're cheap labor so they get the job and the legal U.S Citizen is put out of work.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 24, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

Illegal aliens are criminals with no rights to be in the United States. What is so hard to understand about that? If you are concerned about their rights go work with their country of citizenship to improve the conditions in that country instead of rewarding them for breaking the law.

And don't count non-citizens of any kind for the purpose of providing funds or allocating representatives.

Finally, don't ask about race. Its illegal in this country to discriminate based on race. There is no need to know race to effectively carry out any legal activity.

Posted by Puleeze on Apr. 01, 2010 @ 5:31 am

what are some things resident aliens can't do that U.S. citizens can do?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 13, 2010 @ 2:24 pm