'Ya es hora'
Latino participation in census pushed
To get its fair share of federal funding and congressional representation out of the U.S. census, Arizona must alleviate fears and generate interest among Latino residents, Democratic leaders and community activists said Friday.
"Not participating in the census is like robbing ourselves," said Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, the assistant house minority leader.
At a news conference organized by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Sinema and others said full participation is essential with Arizona facing massive budget deficits. Federal funding tied to population goes toward education, roads, public safety, jobs and hospitals.
"We cannot afford to lose millions of federal dollars the census can provide to our state and our community," said Michael Nowakowski, vice mayor of Phoenix.
Nowakowski said it's important to get across to members of the Latino community that census information is confidential and can't be used by law enforcement to identify those who are in the U.S. illegally.
Seeking to reassure minority groups, the U.S. Justice Department announced this week that the USA Patriot Act doesn't override the confidentiality of census information.
"This is really a cause unifying the entire Latino population," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "It doesn't matter if you are a citizen or not or even your race; we are all equal under the U.S. Census."
Vargas' group has organized a campaign called "ya es hora" - or "it's time already" - a partnership with local groups and Spanish-language media to encourage Latinos to participate in the census.
Vargas said Latinos stand to gain congressional representation with an accurate census count because of growth in their population over the past decade.
"This is the most important census in history for the Latino community," he said.
In 2008, about one out of three Arizona residents was of Hispanic or Latino origin, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
David Lujan, D-Phoenix, the House minority leader, said census participation is especially important when it comes to Arizona's education system, which has a large population of Latino students.
"Our state can't afford to avoid the census," said Lujan, who is a candidate for state attorney general.
Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, said in a telephone interview that state GOP leaders are just as committed to Latinos participating in the census.
"Republicans want everyone in the state to count themselves, whether you are Asian, Latino or any race," he said.