Census Boycott Splits Latinos
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Earlier this year, a prominent Latino religious leader proposed a boycott of the 2010 Census as a way for undocumented immigrants to bring their voices to bear on the immigration debate.
The boycott, pushed by the Rev. Miguel Ángel Rivera of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, now seems to be gaining momentum in some Latino communities, as well as a higher profile in the ethnic media.
In part that's because of mounting frustration with President Obama's failure to deliver an immigration reform plan this year, as he promised while campaigning for Latino votes last year.
In Los Angeles, well-known leftist activist Nativo Lopez of the Mexican American Political Association has thrown his support behind Rivera's boycott.
Speaking recently on the Univision TV network's widely-watched weekly show "Al Punto," Lopez said: "We're calling for a boycott, asking for non-cooperation with the Census, until there's just and comprehensive immigration reform and legal status for everybody."
The two other immigrant leaders invited to speak on that week's program, anchored by Univision's Jorge Ramos, disagreed sharply with the boycott plan.
"It's a well-intentioned strategy, but it's the wrong answer and it will have negative consequences," said one of them, Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
Likewise, other influential boycott critics like the Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, warned it will drain dollars, political representation and influence from Latino communities.
In a strange twist, Latino supporters of the boycott find themselves on the same side as right-wing immigration hard-liners, who also do not want undocumented immigrants included in the 2010 Census.
Right-wing commentators like columnist Michelle Malkin and CNN's Lou Dobbs, as well as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., already are targeting the Census Bureau for counting undocumented immigrants.
The right-wing critics believe counting those who entered the country illegally unfairly inflates Latino political influence.
Mark Krikorian, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for more restrictive immigration laws, described Rev. Rivera's plan as "a boycott I can get behind."
Krikorian noted that the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, has sued twice, unsuccessfully, to have undocumented immigrants excluded from the Census. (The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified FAIR as a hate group.)
"I honestly don't understand the logic of it," Krikorian wrote of the Census boycott in the National Review online, "since the more illegal aliens who are counted, the more (illegitimate) representation hard-left elites receive ... since illegal aliens are included in the counts for apportionment. But whatever the thinking, we should hope for its great success."
Despite the strange bedfellows, Rev. Rivera's boycott has begun to be the subject of buzz and passionate debate among Latino immigrants.
In Massachusetts, the Census boycott has caused a rift within the large and often-overlooked Brazilian immigrant community. Earlier this month, Fausto da Rocha, executive director of the Allston, Mass.-based Brazilian Immigrant Center, endorsed the boycott and had Rev. Rivera on his AM radio program.
On the call-in show, da Rocha surveyed his listeners on whether they would participate in the 2010 Census. Among undocumented immigrants, only six out of 106 callers said they would, according to reporting by Angela Schreiber in Comunidade News in Danbury, Conn. Among legal immigrants, only 20 out of 65 callers to the show said they would cooperate.
Like other newspaper editors and publishers, Breno da Mata of Comunidade News said he felt he had to report on the Census controversy once it became a topic of discussion in his community. "We couldn't just close our eyes to it," he said.