In the long run, the U.S. Census Bureau also expects to see the Hispanic population rise to between 21 and 31 percent by 2050, at which point, it is widely believed, non-minority whites — who currently make up two-thirds of the population — will no longer constitute a majority.
The Census count will have huge ramifications for major metropolitan areas. The city of Los Angeles, for instance, claims it loses $20 million a year because of people missed by the last count. In addition, the results determine how to divvy up the 435 legislators in the House of Representatives.
A case in point: After the 2000 Census, states such as California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida all gained lawmakers, while states like Connecticut, Chicago, Ohio, and Michigan lost them. A crucial wild card in all these high-stakes considerations is the degree to which the Census can count the people in the shadows. As a result, the clergy coalition's call for a boycott is a big deal. The helmsman of the quest, the Rev. Miguel Rivera, said that his call has already reached the ears of at least a million undocumented residents.
Last year, the reverend tried to use the Census as a bargaining chip for immigration reform.
The idea was to browbeat Congress into passing immigration reform before March, when people will begin filling out their Census forms in earnest. If Congress didn't take up the issue, he'd fl ip the switch for the boycott. "It's a very radical position," he admitted. Clearly, this won't be happening, and so the Rev. Rivera — a self-described conservative who in November 2008 voted for Republican presidential nominee John Mc- Cain — is calling on members to boycott. "We are trying to avoid having more families be separated," he told Hispanic- Business Magazine. "What we are doing is empowering them."
Congressman Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from the Tucson, Ariz., area whose very seat came into existence in 2003 as a result of the last Census, expressed his displeasure with the movement. "It is foolish and narrow minded, and it is a total disservice to what has been the tradition and the push to get everyone counted in this country," he said. "I would suggest those kinds of calls for abstinence from the Census process be completely ignored."
In the meantime, Hispanic groups have been trying to counteract Rivera's efforts by making direct appeals to Hispanic evangelicals. In December, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials began distributing a controversial poster invoking the biblical Christmas story of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus urging people to participate.
The poster said the holy family traveled to Jesus' birthplace in Bethlehem to take part in a census.
Last year also saw the reawakening of some old partisan battles. For all the complexity of these debates, a simple theme usually prevails: Republicans generally favor methods that count fewer people in dense urban areas, and Democrats generally prefer the opposite. Last year, President Obama's pick for Commerce Secretary – U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire – infuriated Democrats and Hispanic advocacy groups. They noted
that as Commerce Secretary, Mr. Gregg would oversee the same Census Bureau whose budget he repeatedly tried to slash during the 1990s.
Mr. Gregg wound up withdrawing his name, citing irreconcilable differences over Mr. Obama's stimulus package. The post is now held by Gary Locke, former governor of Washington.
Then, in April, Mr. Obama riled the Republican side of the aisle. This time, it was for his selection on the Census Bureau director: University of Michigan Professor Robert Groves, a former high-ranking statistician for the bureau.
Republicans hold Groves suspect for his idea in 1990 to statistically adjust the Census to make up for an undercount. The Obama administration has tried to lay the debate to rest by saying there are no current plans to use sampling methods. In any case, this year's struggles show that the Census is not just a dispassionate headcount. To the dismay of many Census officials, it's increasingly becoming politicized. And as observers know, politics can be the poison pill that kills the quest to ferret out the truth.
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