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Census worries Latino advocate

September 22, 2018

With $700 billion in federal funding at stake, a national expert in Latino affairs urged local civic leaders Friday to closely monitor Census 2020, the national headcount.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said that under the current political climate and with a citizenship question being pushed by the Trump administration, Latinos are suspicious of the government’s motives.

“We want to make sure everyone gets counted,” said Vargas, a nationally recognized expert in Latino demographic trends, electoral participation, voting rights, the census and redistricting.

The federal government distributes about $700 billion a year nationwide based on the official census count, performed every 10 years.

Vargas was the headline speaker for an event at Sweetwater Sound hosted by Latinos Count, a local nonprofit with a mission “to prepare Latino youth for global opportunities.” The group awarded college scholarships to 15 Latinos in the last year.

In an interview before his talk, Vargas said he felt hopeful about six legal challenges to the citizenship question, which was added late in the census preparation process. It simply asks whether household members are U.S. citizens.

Vargas said it is the fourth census he’s been involved with and the one he’s most concerned about.

Though the question is asked in a yearly census questionnaire sent to a sampling of U.S. households, having it on the 2020 census survey sent to everyone raises concerns, Vargas said. The fear about the question is shared by documented and undocumented Latinos alike, he said, because of the mixed citizenship status among families. They worry a federal officer will come to their house if they leave the question blank, Vargas said.

Fear and anger motivate people to vote, Vargas said.

A weekly poll by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials shows 80 percent of Latino voters will vote or probably will vote in November’s midterm elections.

The most recent poll, with results through Wednesday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. It shows Latino voters leaning Democratic, with congressional Democrats getting a 54 percent favorable rating and Republicans 26 percent. President Donald Trump has a 23 percent favorable rating among Latinos.

There are nearly 58 million Latinos or Hispanics in the U.S., or about 18 percent of the population, according to census figures released last week. It is the second largest group after non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics make up about 7 percent of Indiana’s population and about 7.5 percent of Allen County’s population.

Sal Soto, Latinos Count board chairman, said there has been steady growth in the local Hispanic community. In the last 10 years, there’s been a 25 percent to 30 percent increase in Hispanic businesses, and fundraising for Latinos Count, in its sixth year, has increased about 20 percent each year, he said.

The conversation within the local community about hot topics such as immigration “has just gotten louder,” he said. “I think the conversation has always been there. I think that the immigration community has always been there ... It’s just now it’s really been magnified.”

“We really, as a not-for-profit, we focus on educational attainment because that’s something we can change,” Soto said. “Immigration is, we know it’s important, but it’s not one of our agenda items that we tackle because we know we can’t.”

rshawgo@jg.net

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