"Invisible people do not count in this country...Invisible people do not have a voice." This quote comes from New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez, who joined Senator Kirsten Gillibrand this week in urging undocumented New Yorkers to come forward and fill out the 2010 Census. Undocumented immigrants contribute to New York as workers, consumers and taxpayers; as such, they must be fully included in our city's census tally.
We only have one chance to get this right. A successful census will help our communities get the resources they need to drive economic recovery over the next ten years. Without a full count of all city residents, New York can't get its fair share of the $400+ billion dollars in federal and state funding that is distributed based on population figures. These resources help neighborhoods repair roads, open child care facilities and build health clinics--services that everyone uses, regardless of citizenship status.
City agencies also rely on census data to determine an area's needs down to the block level. A school district, for example, must have a reliable sense of how many students live in a community to plan ahead. If large numbers of children in undocumented families are undercounted, their schools will be forced to accommodate more students than expected. This can result in larger class sizes and overcrowded schools that hurt us all.
Many immigrants, especially the undocumented, are hesitant to answer the census, fearing that their personal information will be shared with landlords or federal immigration authorities. This is despite the fact that all census information is protected by federal law and cannot be shared with any person or government agency. Immigrants are also likely to live in what the Census Bureau calls "hard-to-count" areas. These neighborhoods have high concentrations of housing and demographic characteristics that make a full count particularly challenging; some of these include non-English speaking households, overcrowded housing arrangements and renters. In fact, four out of the top ten counties with the largest number of people living in hard-to-count areas are in New York City.
The 2000 Census missed more people in New York than in any other US city. A study from PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated that the undercount cost the five boroughs almost $850 million in federal funding over the past decade. We can't afford to let this happen again.
Non-profits and local organizations across the city have been pounding the pavement to get the word out to immigrants in their communities. And it helps to have voices like Sen. Gillibrand supporting a full count of her undocumented constituents.
Census forms were mailed out to city residents this week, and the clock is ticking. We have until April 1 to help ensure that every New Yorker is counted--no matter their citizenship status. The census provides a snapshot of what NYC looks like today, to what extent we've changed over the last decade, and helps our leaders plan for the future. It's in our shared interest that all New Yorkers show up in the picture.