The last thing we need is a hidden-agenda census

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

The daily attacks on our bedrock beliefs and institutions can hit too close to home. I worked on the 2000 and 2010 Census and know how valuable the data is. Adding a citizenship question to the form would be disastrous.

The census was designed to count citizens, non-citizens and what we call undocumented immigrants. Even slaves were counted and they were not considered people. They counted as 3/5th of a person. 

Even after they were freed, African Americans remained undercounted. In 1970, an estimated 6 percent of African Americans went uncounted. The undercount of minorities has been a persistent problem with the census. Adding a citizenship question could reduce Hispanic responses by 6.5 million.

Hispanic response to the census has already been low. It could be due to a language barrier or a distrust of government. I see this same level of distrust among immigrants from Europe and Asia. 

I've worked on countless cases to help immigrants with legal problems. It's in their best interest to cooperate, but it's difficult to gain their trust. The level of fear has skyrocketed in immigrant communities. Their biggest fear is discussing their citizenship status. 

It's the same with the census. It's in everyone's interest to be counted. An accurate count increases a community's political power and ability to access government funds. I saw serving as a census enumerator as an act of patriotism. I also needed the money.

I worked the 2000 Census in Forest Park. My boss was passionate about counting every soul in town and we did a very complete job. In 2010, I again worked the census. I was assigned to Cicero, a town that was 84 percent Hispanic. I was a group leader, so I had an eight-person crew dropping off completed forms at my house every evening. Cicero proved to be a challenge.

I showed residents my badge and introduced myself as "Censo." They often claimed they had sent in their form. Sometimes they would say they didn't speak English. Usually, one of their kids would translate. Top speed for an enumerator was finishing four forms per hour. I completed six forms per hour. 

That's because Cicero is so densely populated. There was usually someone home. If not, I sat on their front stairs and did my paperwork until they arrived. I fell in love with the people of Cicero. Once I earned their trust, they became gracious hosts. They gave me water and food. One woman even sharpened my pencil. 

I can't imagine having to ask residents about their citizenship. The job was already tough enough. I would have gotten zero cooperation from many of them. I didn't have police powers to force them. It was voluntary. Cicero would have been severely undercounted at a great cost to the community.

I hoped to work the 2020 Census but can't face the physical challenge. In 2010, I developed a severe case of "census legs." They were sore 24/7 from climbing stairs. Still, I'm fascinated by the census and hope the citizenship question will not be included. 

Census-taking goes back to the Biblical account of the census conducted at the time of Jesus' birth. There is more fact than myth to this story. Caesar Augustus did conduct a census for taxation purposes. Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time. The Romans ruled Israel and Herod reluctantly agreed to count his people. Each resident returned to the town where they were born to be counted. 

If there hadn't been a census, we wouldn't have Nativity sets to display. That could be seen as an attack on the bedrock beliefs of certain folks in DC.

We need the census to be as complete as possible, and we don't need unnecessary and hidden-agenda questions that serve as barriers to conducting it.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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