The 2020 U.S. Census is still years away but critics charge that Hispanics are underrepresented on a committee that advises the federal agency on demographic changes.
Out of the 10 new members appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, just two members are Hispanic. Critics contend that the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. is not properly represented.
"If you want to have an accurate census and reach out to the Latino community, it would certainly help to have Latinos on your staff and people who understand the Latino community," Angelo Falcón, president for the National Institute of Latino Policy, told HispanicBusiness.com.
Pauline Medrano, mayor pro tem of Dallas, and Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, will be seated Thursday on the committee.
They will join current member Altagracia Ramos as the only Hispanics serving on the 32-member committee.
With more than 54 million U.S. Hispanics making up 16 percent of the nation's population, there is concern among Hispanic activists that a lack of representation on the committee could result in overlooking the needs of the Hispanic population. The Census is used to help determine federal funding and elective representation.
"If we can't get adequate representation on an advisory committee whose purpose is to look at racial, ethnic and other populations, it really says a lot about the Census Bureau's lack of commitment to really bring in Latinos in a serious way," Mr. Falcón said.
The committee advises and provides feedback to the Census on an array of different issues including housing, youth, privacy, race and ethnicity, and gay, lesbian and transgender populations. The advisory committee will help guide the Census on the cost, accuracy and carrying out of its programs and surveys.
Members are chosen based on their ability and awareness of a variety of issues affecting hard-to-count populations, an official said.
"The expertise of this committee helps the Census Bureau in producing high-quality statistics," Thomas Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau's acting director, said in a press release. "By helping us better understand a variety of issues that affect statistical measurement, this committee ensures that the Census Bureau continues to provide relevant and timely statistics used by federal, state and local governments as well as business and industry in an increasingly technologically oriented society."
Mr. Falcón believes a larger representation is needed on the committee so that Hispanics have greater influence on major decisions.
"The situation with the advisory committee tells a bigger story about the Census Bureau's lack of responsiveness in the Latino community," Mr. Falcón said.
When Ms. Medrano and Mr. Vargas join the committee on Thursday, all three Hispanics will be Mexican-American. Community leaders say the committee is missing Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans and Salvadorans, which undervalues the diversity of the Hispanic population.
"These are communities that have their own issues, their own interests, their own concerns. They require different approaches to reaching out," Mr. Falcón said.
Because the U.S. Census is becoming more complex to complete, Mr. Falcón said, Hispanic participation is crucial to its success.
"The challenge is going to be greater in 2020 in terms of getting people to respond," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen with immigration reform, we don't know how the country is going to go in terms of its attitude towards the Latino community. It's a very uncertain future, which can really present major challenges to the Latino community."
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