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Census Boycott Splits Latinos

Oddly, supporters of the boycott find themselves on the same side as immigration hard-liners, who also want the undocumented excluded from the 2010 Census.

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Many Brazilian immigrant leaders disagree with da Rocha's embrace of the boycott, just as many evangelical leaders split publicly with Rev. Rivera when he came out against the Census.

In the Boston area, five Brazilian newspapers issued a statement to counter da Rocha's position.

"We support the 2010 Census unconditionally because we believe it is the best and safest way to learn the real size of the Brazilian community," said the statement published by the New England Ethnic News website and signed by A Noticia, A Semana, Brazilian Times, Metropolitan Brazilian News, and Jornal dos Sports USA.

Fausto da Rocha's critics believe most Brazilians will end up supporting the Census count. But they admit da Rocha's strong endorsement of the boycott will have its impact.

"People began to form their opinions on the Census once Fausto went on the radio," acknowledged Paulo Monauer, editor and publisher of the Portuguese-language Jornal dos Sports USA paper in Massachusetts.

It's believed that as many as 300,000 Brazilians live in Massachusetts alone, and that as many as four-fifths of them may be undocumented.

Among Spanish-speaking Latinos in the Boston area, boycott support still seems limited, though press coverage has spread awareness, said Marcela García, editor of newspaper El Planeta.

However, she believed the boycott "has a lot of potential to gain more momentum" since so many Latino immigrants feel increasingly "fed-up and desperate" with the stalled immigration overhaul.

In Atlanta, the boycott still seems largely confined to certain Latino pastors and their loyal evangelical flocks, but the U.S. Census Bureau has been too timid in confronting Rev. Rivera, said Judith Martinez-Sadri, editor-in-chief of the Atlanta Latino newspaper.

"This gentleman has gotten ahead of them," she said, adding that the Rev. Rivera was on an Atlanta-area religious radio program this month that received dozens of calls.

García, of El Planeta, agreed the Census Bureau should rise to the challenge. "I would have expected them to come out with a more forceful reaction," she said.

In fact, the task of arguing against the boycott has mostly been taken up by Latino leaders outside of government.

In New York City this summer for example, Rev. Rivera appeared on WABC-TV, in a televised debate with Angelo Falcón, a well-known Latino political analyst who argued the "con" position against the boycott, to Rivera's "pro."

The boycott has surfaced again and again in recent ethnic media reporting on Census 2010.

In Philadelphia, for example, when the Al Día newspaper invited Census Bureau officials to an event, a reporter peppered Fernando Armstrong, regional director, with boycott questions.

"It's a distraction" that could be harmful, admitted Armstrong.

He warned that hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are channeled annually based on Census figures. He added that Latinos, as the country's fastest-growing demographic group, stand to gain access to greater political clout and dollars with a proper count.

Major Spanish-language television broadcasters such as Univision, Telemundo and Azteca America are vocal Census 2010 supporters. Telemundo for example, launched a national initiative: "¡Hazte Contar!" or "Be Counted!" to increase awareness and participation.

Similarly, Azteca America is promoting a "Yo Cuento" or "I Count" campaign in the Bay Area.

But aside from covering the boycott as a news story, the networks are against the boycott.

"We support that the people be counted," said Helder Rodriguez, operations manager at Azteca America in San Francisco. As for the boycott, "we only see it as news, we're not promoting it."

For his part, Rev. Rivera, whose organization claims 20,000 associated churches in 34 states, believes Hispanic media has not yet given the Census boycott its due share of airtime.

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