By Dan Linehan
The Free Press
MANKATO — There is a fear among immigrants that the census workers who will visit area homes that don’t mail back their forms will use the information they collect as an immigration enforcement tool.
“We know that is going to be a barrier” to census data collection, said Victoria Salas, director of the nonprofit La Mano.
She said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is halting deportation proceedings while the census is being completed.
Salas, who is part of the statewide Latino Complete Count Committee, encourages people to fill out the census and has a Spanish language broadcast Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. on KMSU.
For every 100 Minnesotans who don’t fill out the 2010 census form, the state will lose $1 million in federal funding during the next 10 years.
That’s $1,000 per person, per year.
Minnesota may also lose a congressional seat.
The census is prohibited by law from releasing personal data for 72 years and has never done so since the first census in 1790, said Barbara Ronningen, a state employee working on the census.
“You will never see anybody’s name associated with anybody’s data,” she said.
She said the Department of War during World War II wanted to search census data for potential enemy combatants, but the Census Bureau took the war department all the way to the Supreme Court and won.
The language on the forms is another issue.
Bilingual forms are mailed for areas with a Latino population of more than 20 percent, which doesn’t include anywhere in the Mankato region.
For privacy reasons, Salas and others can’t accompany census workers when they visit homes that haven’t returned their census forms.
La Mano’s office in Madison East Center will be able to help people fill out the forms, she said.
There will also be a census worker who can help at Lincoln Community Center in room 210 for about a month beginning Monday. The worker will be available 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday and 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, said Bev Mountain, Adult Basic Education program coordinator.
She’s asked for a worker who can speak Somali or Nuer, a language of southern Sudan.
Immigrants’ worries over the census are nothing new, according to the Blue Earth County Historical Society. And they weren’t the only ones worried about telling the truth to strangers.
Mary Todd Lincoln once managed to age only seven years between two censuses.