Officials Urge Illegal Immigrants To Cooperate In U.S. Census To Benefit N.J.

ICE sign_wmThe irony is rich. In many contexts, much of the time, immigrants without proper papers are demonized as men and women — and children — who cause problems for properly documented citizens. But, at least for the next few months, they will be the darlings of government, urged to come out of hiding and anonymity, coaxed to put away their fears of separation from family, arrest, imprisonment in immigration jails and deportation.Because, after all, they have to be counted in the 2010 Census. They have to be counted so New Jersey can get more money for education, health care, transportation and other services. And maintain its current number of Congressional representatives.

“It’s unfortunate the same people who are so needed now for the purposes of the census are often otherwise treated as garbage,” says William Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

Dressel joined a number of local, county, state and federal officials the other day for what had all the appearances of a political rally in Perth Amboy. But the point of the rally wasn’t to get out the vote for a candidate, but to find the uncounted, especially among those who might be afraid to be counted.

At stake is how $400 billion in federal formula-based aid is distributed. At stake also is how many members of Congress are allotted to each state.

U.S Rep. Albio Sires (D-13th), a Cuban immigrant, was the first at the meeting to bring up the unpleasant and unavoidable reality — immigrants are driven into an underground existence because the government has failed to act on the immigration problem.

Except, perhaps, through early morning raids. These do not exactly encourage immigrants to cooperate with the government.

“With all the raids by ICE” — Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement—”in the last few years, people are very apprehensive about dealing with the government,” said Sires.

“People are afraid they will get deported.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how those living in the shadows will react when people come to the door, identify themselves as federal workers, and say they just want to ask a few questions.

Wilda Diaz, Perth Amboy’s mayor and a champion of counting the uncounted, says ICE should consider a moratorium on the raids during the decennial census.

“We have to allay their fears,” she says.

The ICE Public Affairs office didn’t respond to questions about suspending immigration raids, but a moratorium is not likely to happen.

“We do not interfere with other functions of government, including law enforcement,” says Raul Vicente, a spokesman for the U.S. Commerce Department’s Census Bureau.

“All we can do is guarantee confidentiality. We won’t share the information we gather.”

Vicente says federal law requires punishment of census workers who reveal any personal information they learn while conducting the count.

“I could go to jail for five years and face a $5,000 fine,” he says.

That’s true, but it’s also unlikely many fearful immigrants are thoroughly familiar with the confidentiality requirements of Title 13 of the federal code — a law that, by the way, also can punish people for giving false information on census forms.

And it’s also true that immigrants might suspect federal law enforcement officials might use the census as a ruse to come after those without proper documentation.

Vicente says his bureau hires census workers from scores of immigrant communities and tries to build trust among those who have come here, legally or not, from other countries.

“We do what we can to convince people the information they give will be protected,” he says. Star Ledger

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