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Privacy, Pandemic Concerns Hinder Hispanic Census Responses

Officials worry that citizenship and the coronavirus concerns may deter Latino participation in the 2020 Census. As the coronavirus increases government distrust, encouraging participation is harder than ever.

(TNS) — National and local Latino organizations are concerned about low participation of Hispanics in the 2020 census, citing their worries over privacy, novel coronavirus implications and confusion over a identity question in the survey.

“Based on our research and surveys, we know that most Latinos are concerned about the privacy and security of the data that they provide to the Census Bureau,” said Lizette Escobedo, director of the National Census Program with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, known as NALEO.

Such concerns are still lingering, particularly among families with mixed immigration status amid a failed attempt from the current administration to introduce a question related to citizenship.

“People need to understand that there is not a question regarding citizenship” in the census form, said Escobedo, who moderated an online townhall this week where several Latino leaders addressed concerns among Hispanics.

“We know that many people do not trust the federal government and are afraid to give out their personal information,” said Andrea Senteno, a counsel with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She said MALDEF is partnering with 250 organizations and leaders nationwide that have pledged to monitor, prevent and block any potential breach of census data confidentiality.

In Harris County and Texas, where the participation rate of 52 percent is below the national average, local leaders are struggling to motivate Hispanics to participate. The national average is 57 percent.

The census ranks Texas as No. 40 among all states in the level of participation. Houston is last among the top five cities in the state by population with a 48 percent rate, with areas heavily populated by Latinos showing lower percentages.

Genesis Sánchez, NALEO’s census campaign manager for Texas, said many immigrants are also aggravated and distrustful because they did not receive stimulus checks or any other relief during the pandemic.

“We find it’s harder now to convince people that it’s really important for them to be counted in the census,” said Sanchez, adding that social distancing imposed by the pandemic has already hampered efforts to mobilize Hispanics. “There is a tension there, where people say, ‘why should I participate if the government is not looking out for me.’

“We are sharing the message that by participating in the census they are helping the government to assist their communities,” she added. “But the pandemic response is a clear example in which the government didn’t.”

The group continues to emphasize the need to be counted, because the census determines how much money communities will receive for services, including education.

Latino leaders also point to issues with a question in the the census about identity.

“It is now more complicated than before,” said Arturo Vargas, director of NALEO. “People have to answer in three steps about ethnicity, race, and country of origin.” Answering the question about identity has always been complex for Hispanics, who can be of any race, and the new format didn’t make it easier.

As the Census Bureau resumes some counting this week, a coalition of civil rights organizations sent a joint letter to Congress demanding oversight of changes to guarantee the participation of hard-to-count communities. The organizations are NALEO, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Vargas recognized that COVID 19 has forced the bureau to adjust their schedules, such as delaying the deadline for the count until Oct. 31, as they announced this week. But the letter expressed concerns that changes could jeopardize proper counts.

©2020 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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