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Why We All Must Unite In The Call For An Accurate Census

by Robert Gittelson

One of the privileges inherent in living in the free and open society that is the United States of America, is that it is acceptable for friends and colleagues to openly disagree with each other, and to discuss their disagreements in an open and civilized manner. Moreover, in America, it is the duty of civic and community leaders to speak out publicly, when their disagreements with friends and colleagues stem from issues that threaten to cause irreparable damage to the communities in which they serve.

It is in this American spirit of constructive civil discourse that we write today, to challenge the strategic wisdom behind the arguments that are being aired by a few of our respected friends and colleagues such as Nativo Lopez, as they advocate for a boycott of the census. While we can appreciate that they are undertaking this action of civil disobedience in an attempt to further the urgent cause that is Comprehensive Immigration Reform, we feel duty bound to explain the reasoning behind our opposing counsel in this matter. While we are sure that proponents of the boycott believe that their intentions are positive, we must point out that the inevitable conclusion that will result because of this boycott will have significant negative repercussions for the very communities that we serve and advocate for.

In an article that was published in Immigration Daily on December 1st of this year, Nativo Lopez of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and Hermandad Mexicana Latinomamericana (HML), titled, "U.S. Census - Why I Won't Cooperate," explained his opinion:

"I have decided this year to sit it out and not comply with the federal law. I do so very conscious of the implications of such non-cooperation and noncompliance, but this is more than just a statement of protest; not a whim nor a lark.

I am driven to this conclusion by the immorality of our federal government, and too many state and local jurisdictions, in relation to its treatment of my brethren - family members, both immediate and extended into a community of millions, whose immigration status has yet to be resolved favorably for them by way of a fair and humane immigration reform..Refusing to cooperate with the U.S. census count is a political act of non-cooperation and noncompliance in the best of Gandhian tradition conducted for the purpose of pressuring the political regime that pursues the persecution of immigrants on a daily basis at all nexus of social connection. This action seeks to dissociate ourselves from this repugnant and immoral policy, which strikes at the heart of the immigrant family.

The immediate objective of this tactic is to secure a moratorium of the current policy. Second, the medium- range objective is to win a fair and humane immigration reform, which results in legalizing the estimated 12-15 million persons without authorized status, but also overhauls other areas of the law - including the repeal of employer sanctions and mothballing the e-verify program. Third, and most importantly, the campaign is designed to raise the civic awareness and political consciousness of the immigrant community and its family members - irrespective of status - with regard to their own inherent power as contributing members of society in all its dimensions, and express the same in an organized concerted way to send a message of disfavor with the president and the leadership in the U.S. Congress."

While we certainly agree wholeheartedly that many of the goals expressed by Nativo Lopez are worthy and constructive, we must express both clearly and comprehensively that his strategy to achieve these urgent goals is impractical, will hurt the very constituents that it professes to empower, and will cause lasting harm to the communities that we strive to uplift.

Our broad based coalition of community based organizations, the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition, held a press conference on September 17th of this year, to announce our position about the on-going work by the U.S. Census Bureau in predominantly immigrant communities.

Mr. Lopez's colleague and coalition member Raul Murillo, the L.A. President of the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, stated:

"We are well aware the President remains committed to having Congress deal with comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office. However, we believe we must enlarge our public support of the President. Making his promise a reality as soon as may be possible does not mean calling for sterile census boycotts which in the long run will only hurt those we are all trying to support in their already long quest to make sure the Congress reforms our broken immigration laws."

"As leaders in the immigrant community we have an obligation to work in order to serve the best interest of our respective constituencies", stated Julio Marroquin, a labor organizer with LIUNA, and a member of the coalition.

Robert Gittelson, also a member of the coalition, stated, "In truth, almost everything about CIR would be positive for our entire country, and an accurate census is fundamental to an equitable distribution of our nation's tax income. By obstructing CIR, we are passive-aggressively creating an "unfunded mandate" for social services in communities that have large uncounted "shadow" undocumented resident populations. Divisions abound on what CIR really means, and what CIR will require to be effective. However, certainly we can all agree that no matter what form a final CIR takes, and what we want it to achieve, at a minimum, we need to know exactly how many people live here, and which communities they live in. Those facts do not need to be controversial. There is nothing ideological about true numbers. In fact, at the end of the day, uniting behind an accurate census might be one of those rare issues in which we can all find common ground."

According to New American Media, so far, 2.5 million people have pledged not to fill out the census form. According to census data, each person who fills out a form represents an average of $1,000 a year for their community. If these calculations are correct, the boycott could result in a loss of $25 billion in the immigrant communities across the country over the next decade.

Now if, in fact, Mr. Lopez and his follow boycott advocates do speak for some 2.5 million people, then their voices should be heard. However, there are positive and negative ways to lead in this debate, and we would argue that Mr. Lopez is taking the wrong tack. That being said, if Mr. Lopez and his fellow boycott advocates can be talked down, so to speak, from their "boycott" ledge, and get on board with the rest of the faith, human rights, and community based coalition members calling for a fair and just CIR, then we believe that their input would be most welcome. There remains an important component in the push for reform, and that is for the pro-CIR advocates to keep the administration's feet to the fire, and the pressure on them to act, and act in a timely manner.

However, in the case of this call to boycott the census, we would argue that here, "the ends do not justify the means." It is the role of immigrant community leaders to lead toward legislation that will benefit the communities that they represent, and toward the greater goal of leading toward legislation that will benefit the United States as a country and as a society. We strongly feel that the call for a boycott of the census accomplishes neither of these goals, and in fact hurts the greater good that we all strive to achieve.

Signed by Members of the Full Rights for Immigrants Coalition

Raul Murrillo of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional Los Angeles

Julio Marroquin and Magdalena Gomez of LIUNA Laborers Union

Dr. John Fernandez of United Teachers of Los Angeles

Robert Gittelson - Advocate for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Juan Jose Gutierrez of Vamos Unidos USA

Rosa Posada of the Union de Inmigrantes Guatemaltecos

About The Author

Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over twenty-five years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first-hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.