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Local Somali Leaders Fear Community Will Not Be Counted

Local Somali leaders fear many community members will not be counted in the 2010 Census. They blame the Columbus census bureau for not helping Somalis understand how the census works, and for not hiring them to work for the bureau. The Columbus census bureau says it's a misunderstanding.

At the entrance of the offices at 2210 Morse Road a large Census poster is difficult to miss. Once you're inside, down the hallway and around the corner to the Somali Women and Children's Alliance there are several more of the big census posters.

Hawa Siad heads up the alliance which serves the local Somali immigrant and refugee community. She does not think the local census bureau has done enough to inform the community about the census, and she's afraid many Somalis will not be counted.

"The effort that was supposed to be made by the census has not reached the Somali community," she said.

Siad said she and other community leaders have been working with the census office since last September to try to educate Somalis about the importance of the count. While she said the census has done some outreach in the community - several presentations, some events and information packets - she said it's not enough.

"Unfortunately we have been trying to inform the census about the need of the Somali community to learn about how to fill out their forms, how to hire Somalis internally, in the offices, but the census has not been responsive about our plight," Siad said.

Mussa Farah is the local census partnership specialist for the Somali community. And he was surprised by Siad's claims.

"We have done a lot. We have been going to the mosque. We have putting up fliers. We have been helping them with the complete count. Any question they had. From today, yesterday up to now," Farah said.

While most Somalis, Siad said, are in the U.S. legally, many have large families - up to nine in a household. And she said lots of them are concerned the personal information they report in the census will be released to landlords. And Siad worries many Somalis either will undercount the number of people living with them or simply not return the form. That's why Siad wants Somalis hired for census jobs.

"They have more confidence on the Somalis. Rather than someone knocking on your door you have to report how many people live in your house. It's a word of mouth. It's not about events and fliers," Siad said.

Siad claims local census offices have not hired Somalis who passed the required basic skills test and background check.

Kevin Conners is a local census office manager. He said there have been numerous Somalis hired for both internal and recruiting jobs. And Conners said just this week one of ten field supervisors hired was Somali.

Door-to-door canvassing does not begin until late April or early May. And census spokesperson Carol Hector-Harris said those jobs are just being filled.

"We're just getting to the point now where we're calling to see if people are still interested, people who qualified. And we're about to hire and train them. That's just now happening. Those calls began this week," Hector-Harris said.

Connors said about 60 Somali-speaking people were hired as field workers for the 2000 census. And he expects they'll need at least that many to help with this count. Hector-Harris said there definitely will be a need.

"If there were any members of the Somali community who do not return their form, then quite naturally we'll need to send a Somali-speaking individual out to that community so that they can be counted. We're trying to count everyone here. That's the entire purpose of the census," she said.

Hector-Harris said there has been a great sense of urgency for this census campaign. And she said that urgency likely led to what she calls confusion in the Somali community about when people would be called back for work.