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|March 6, 2000|
The importance of being counted -- correctly
For thousands of Indo-Caribbean families settled in and around Richmond Hill in New York City, Census 2000 has special significance. Many of them are being counted for the first time. For a large number of these families migrated to America from Guyana and Trinidad in the last five years. And many of the older immigrants are also learning that it is important to be counted.
"We did not know till the other day that the federal and state governments allocate funds for education and social services based on the statistics and information we provide," says Ram Perusad, a livery cab driver. "We were also very afraid the last time. Though we are legal, we still thought census people could make trouble for us -- if we broke the smallest law."
Now the community realizes, its leaders say, that it is a crime for census officials and workers to pass on any information regarding legal status or let the government agencies know who the respondents are, and what their names are.
Census officials and community leaders say one of the toughest challenges is to convince the undocumented people that they too need to be counted. "The are afraid of leaving a paper trail," says Dolly Hassan, an attorney at the Liberty Center for Immigrants. She tries to convince them that the Census Board cannot divulge information about their visa status to the government.
Census is using a multimillion ad campaign to convince illegal residents that they do not have to fear the census. Officials point out the fear of the census is evident in every community. "Sure, there are illegal people from every country -- from Russia, from Sweden, from India and from China. But they do not worry about us."
Unlike the last census, the number of volunteers in the Indian and Indian Caribbean community is impressive this year.
"They say there are about 1.2 million Indian Americans," says Tito Sinha. "If we are counted properly we could be many more in number."
Piyush Agarwal, a member of Census 2000, says: "The more Indian American heads are counted, the more clout we will have. Politicians pay attention to numbers. If we tell a Congressman that a particular bill could affect two million Indian Americans, you bet he will listen to us more carefully, as opposed to saying that it will affect one million Indian Americans."
Tara Singh, a Richmond Hill community leader who is a member of the Indo-Caribbean Task Force for Census 2000, believes the last census failed to properly count Indo-Caribbean immigrants, and he does not want to see it happen again.
"Our people got misclassified for the greater part of the 1990 census," he told reporters. "The 1990 census shows there were about 20,000 total, but everyone knows it should be over 100,000."
In addition to checking "Asian" the Indo-Caribbeans should also check "Asian Other" and pencil in "Indo-Caribbean" on that line. Singh said this is to make sure Indo-Caribbeans get counted in at least one category.
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