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Despite Education Hispanics Still Reluctant About Census

It's time again to take another count of the people living in the U.S. The first round of Census forms already have been mailed out. WOSU reports it's actually illegal not to fill them out and return them.

"We seek cooperation rather than prosecution," Carol Hector-Harris, who speaks for the U.S. Census Bureau, said.

Hector-Harris said it's a Constitutional requirement to take part in the census - and that's clearly stated on the census packet. She said the bureau could prosecute someone for not filling out and returning their census form.

"But I don't think I've ever heard of the Census Bureau ever prosecuting anyone," she said.

Because population determines many federal spending programs, Ohio relies on the census. The state gets from Washington about $400 million a year for roads, schools and health care. The census also will determine how many representatives Ohio will have in Congress.

Hector-Harris says part of Census workers' focus lies in dispelling myths and reassuring concerns people may have that would cause them to be skeptical about the Census.

"The Census Bureau does not share the information that we collect with any other agency. So people you mentioned who are immigrants and may be fearful that we would share the information with INS, that doesn't happen. Other people are fearful that maybe their identity may be stolen. We don't share that information. It's highly protected," Hector-Harris said.

Fear of the INS - or Immigration and Naturalization Service - could affect the count. There are about 50,000 Hispanics living in Columbus. And there's a big push from some government officials to count everyone including those who may be residing in the U.S. illegally. Joe Mas, who chairs the Ohio Hispanic Coalition estimates 40 percent of Hispanics living in Columbus have what he calls unresolved immigration issues. Mas said Latino radio stations and newspapers have done a better job educating the community than they did in 2000. But he said many still worry.

"They are reluctant to have any kind of interface with the authorities for the simple reason that they don't know if they're going to be turned in as a consequence of giving information of who they are, where they're living, how many people are in their household and any other personal information," Mas said.

Hector-Harris said they've hired Spanish speaking workers in an effort to reach immigrant communities.

Ten years ago, Ohio's Census return rate was about 70 percent. This year, Hector-she said the goal is 100 percent participation. "We may not reach 100 percent on the first try.But we're pushing," she said.

Hector-Harris, who said Columbus has hired hundreds of Census workers, could not give an exact figure. She said workers are hired at different times for various tasks and come and go.

Many Census workers are hired to go door-to-door after the return deadline passes to encourage people who have not filled out their forms to do so. They won't have to visit Columbus resident John Ward. While Ward plans to complete his Census, he's concerned about how much it costs to count everyone. "Just the overall cost of what it's going to be, from what you gather from it, especially with the way the economy is right now," Ward said.

Another Columbus resident is concerned about the Census, but not about its costs. Rebecca Kahamis is Sudanese and sought asylum in the U.S. four years. She said she'll fill out a form, if she gets one.

"I don't know if they're going to count us. And we have documents so we don't know if they're going to count us as U.S. citizens or not," Kahamis said.

Officials estimate that the city of Columbus stands to lose $20,000 to $30,000 in federal funding for every person who fails to answer the Census.