Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Census senses you

I'm overdue on some thought pieces, as I've been getting slammed with work, work, and personal stuff (nothing bad, just busy.) But I saw an article about how the US Census sold out Japanese Americans during WWII on angryasianman and couldn't help but comment. The Los Angeles Times' article gives credibility to the long-held suspicion of many in the Japanese American community that in 1943, the Census Bureau turned over confidential information including names and addresses that allowed the US government to quickly locate and intern Japanese Americans.

Why does this relevation matter? Because it could still be happening today. The Bush administration could be using the same faulty arguments to gain access to info on Muslim Americans.

Apart from this being a terrible breach of confidence, and a terrifying proposition that Alberto Gonzales has the goods on you and where you live regardless of your citizenship status, it undermines the very trust and nonpartisan nature of the Census. (Although, I wouldn't be surprised if this is how the Bushies are compiling their hit list a la Nixon.)

Look, I have friends who have been Census workers. They have found it very difficult to get an accurate count of immigrant communities, because Latinos, APIAs, and other immigrants are TERRIFIED that if they fill out a Census, the info will promptly get turned over to BCIS (the new and improved INS - unofficial motto: "less questions, more deportations.")

Okay, you might ask, and why does this matter?

The short answer is that Census figures are considered the most accurate representation of our nation's population, and as such are used to determine federal budgets. If you remember the whole brouhaha in 2000 over adding in different ethnicities and allowing people to check off multiple boxes about race, many major civil rights groups were concerned that if the numbers of X racial group were originally 20 million, that counting hapas and those of mixed heritage would dilute their numbers (and perceived power) to say, 3 million mixed and 17 million X Americans. Then federal funding for health care, education, etc. that depended on Census figures would be reduced accordingly. One of the most important functions that Census numbers are used for is drawing Congressional districts and the Voting Rights Act (especially Section 203). There are some congressional districts that have been drawn to more or less ensure that a minority candidate will win the seat. Additionally, S 203 of the Voting Rights Act states that if a certain percentage of people in a district are monolingual in a given language (Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.) then the county has to provide translations of all elections materials and ballots so that they can also vote. So if minorities are under-counted in a district because they're scared to return the forms, it could have huge repercussions that they wouldn't be able to vote for candidates that would represent their concerns. And so the cycle would continue.

Oh, and by the way, all Census workers were specifically trained to tell people with these concerns that the US Census does not share individual information with other government agencies. So the Census workers and the people polled were lied to. And if I recall correctly, the Census has to put this disclaimer on its posters, and its pamphlets and reports. So it's a pretty big deal.

P.S. If you think that this blog post title is corny, you may be correct. Nonetheless my limited resources of wit are currently being pulled in 4 other directions, like a very taut piece of laffy taffy. Mmmmmm. Nothing like going bananas!

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