On Saturday, volunteers in communities nationwide held events to encourage people to mail back their 2010 Census forms. The blitz was organized by the U.S Census Bureau to target parts of cities and towns that have low response rates. In the city of Danbury, there are three neighborhoods with hard to count populations. As WNPR’s Lucy Nalpathanchil reports, extra outreach is given to areas where immigrants live because they are often among the under-counted .
Hispanics are the largest minority group in Danbury, 17,000 by Census count.
According to the Hispanic Center of Greater Danbury, many of these immigrants are Brazilian, Ecuadorian, and Dominican-And not all of them are here legally. So how do you get new immigrants, some with questionable citizenship status to fill out a government form? Ingrid Alvarez Demarzo, the Hispanic Center’s Executive Director says you do so by starting outreach early, real early.
"Here at the Center, we have been eating, sleeping, Census 2010, for the last, it will almost be a year. You’ll probably find some of the day laborers wearing Census 2010 t-shirts at Kennedy Park right now.”
Immigrants living in Danbury haven’t always felt welcome. In 2006, eleven day laborers were arrested at Kennedy Park by local police and federal immigration agents. A few of the immigrants were deported but the case is still making headlines because some of the men sued the city of Danbury for alleged racial profiling. Since then, the city has also entered into an agreement with the federal govt to train some of its police to enforce immigration law. This complicates an already challenging situation for the Census Bureau. How to get immigrants to participate.
Alvarez says her staff has been speaking with the community to alleviate any concerns.
“We’ve worked really really hard in this partnership with the Census to make sure that people who will be knocking on doors look like the people that should be opening the doors, that speak that language and live in those communities and zipcodes so it could be potentially someone’s neighbor, someone that they’ve seen in their community and minimizes that anxiety.”
Regardless of past events in Danbury, she says immigrant residents have been filling out the Census.
“They use us for everything that affects their lives that they need help with.So this isn’t any different than perhaps accessing healthcare."
Sheila Torres, a Partnership Specialist with the US Census Bureau is enthusiastic about working with the Hispanic Center. One of the outcomes of their partnership, is having a Census worker available in the Center’s lobby during the week to answer questions and help native Spanish speakers with their forms.
"It makes such a difference to have someone who speaks the language and get into that community, it helps.”
The Census has identified three geographic areas or tracts in Danbury that have low response rates. A lot of immigrants live in two of the tracts.
Right before Saturday's Blitz, Tract 2-1-0-1, near Main street had 51 percent of households that mailed back their forms. Tract 2-1-0-2 where many Brazilians live had only 43 percent that responded. But Torres is not worried. She expects participation to increase because unlike ten years ago, the Census Bureau holds numerous outreach events from now until April 19, the last day of the push.
In between talking to Census community partners and pouring through daily Census data,
Torres is also walking around the community, clipboard under one arm, and clutching handfuls of census 2010 keychains and stickers.
"I always bring my forms, 'have you seen it, did you get it?' And I always carry the envelope"
Kennedy Street is one of her stops. It's where many day laborers stand waiting for work .
Torres asks a day laborer in Spanish if he received a Census form.
Mexicans, Guatamalans and Ecuadorians stand in groups. Many smile and answer politely when Torres asks them whether they've filled out their Census forms. One would think they might just say yes…so she’ll move on and question others down the street-but these men take time to tell her why they chose to fill out the Census
One of them put it this way:
"At least the president can count how many millions of us are in need and will do something to help us."
For those who haven’t filled out their forms by April 19, census workers known as enumerators will start knocking on doors in May.
Torres says the community is being told how to identify a census worker. Enumerators will be carrying large black bags that have a U.S Census logo and they’ll have census badges with their names on them.
But she says the goal today is getting people to fill out the forms so fewer enumerators are needed in May.
“We get better data when people actually sit down at their kitchen table and fill out their forms themselves or with assistance if they need it, we do have questionnaire assistance centers. Than if they’re standing at the door and there’s an enumerator there asking the questions and they just want to get rid of that person, you know?”
It saves the govt money, too..The Census Bureau says 85 million dollars is saved for every one percent increase in mail back response. And that 2010 census data can then be used to allocate federal dollars to communities. Money that goes towards schools, hospitals, and infrastructure, things that benefit regardless of citizenship status.