Georgia Latino group publicizes census effort

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ATLANTA --- The U.S. Census Bureau won't begin mailing questionnaires until March for next year's nationwide tally, but Latino groups are already encouraging participation.

The Constitution requires the federal government to count every person in the United States every 10 years, including the homeless, prisoners and illegal immigrants. The primary purpose is to divvy up the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on population, a process that gave Georgia two seats after the 2000 census.

The data also are used in sorting out more than $300 billion in federal aid each year and in determining the boundaries for every state legislative and local government district.

Latino groups want a complete count to ensure that their growing presence translates into political and economic power, according to Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

"In this country where we have every 30 seconds a Latino being born, I think it's important to make sure that we have everyone counted," he said.

The association just released an analysis of voting in the 2008 general election that concluded, based on Latino last names, that 3 percent of the ballots cast came from Hispanics. It also showed that 54 percent of Georgia Latinos turned out, beating the national Hispanic turnout of 50 percent.

"That is a significant growth and a significant pull that all candidates should pay attention to," Mr. Gonzalez said.

The Latino Elected Officials and other groups have begun urging people to participate when the census questionnaire arrives or if a census taker knocks on the door. Immigrants who don't have documentation might fear deportation, but the Census Bureau is required by law to keep the personal data confidential and not to share them with law enforcement agencies.

The agency is hiring 1.4 million workers to reach the 120 million homes, but it is glad to get help from community groups to spread the word, said Raul Cisneros, a spokesman for the Census Bureau.

The state government spent $1.5 million in 2008 to verify addresses and the boundaries of every city. It forwarded the information to Washington, but the current year's state budget makes no mention of the census.

"There is a lot of stuff we can do that doesn't cost a lot of money," said Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Many other states have created outreach campaigns and plan to collect their own data in case they want to challenge a low official count. Georgia's committee operated for about a year before the last census, but Mr. Schrimpf said no such committee has been put in place this year.

The Census Bureau is glad private groups are pitching in.

"We certainly need community involvement," Mr. Cisneros said.

Reach Walter Jones at walter.jones@morris.com.


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