My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Census Director Groves Talks Language Assistance in SF

By Sonja Sharp for

What do you get when you toss together 57 languages, $300 million and a five pronged attack? Well, if you’re Robert M. Groves, Director of the US Census Bureau, you hope you get a slightly better count.

If there’s one clear message that everyone can take from Groves’ presentation at San Francisco City Hall today, its that the ethnic press is alive and well. Immigrant groups across the country have expressed unparalleled interest in the 2010 census, making today’s event particularly well attended. But questions about how well the census will actually be able to reach those immigrants still linger.

In case you don’t read Cantonese or Tagalog, here’s the breakdown:

The Census Bureau has totally ramped up its PR campaign for 2010. In total, it plans to spend $3oo million, nearly all of it in targeted, local advertising. The emphasis here is on language outreach, small ethnic newspapers and foreign language TV and radio.  During the first week of March, letters introducing the census  will go out to every home in America. Three hundred million of them, currently sitting in a storeroom somewhere in DC.

Those will direct non-English speakers to a call center where no fewer than 57 languages are spoken. Unfortunately, the census is only available in six: English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian and Vietnamese. Tagalog was removed after 2000.

But speakers of Urdu, Khmer and  Burmese are in luck! A quick glance at some yet-t0-be released “language assistance forms” (which basically translate the entire census into a third language) show a wealth of other, less widely spoken languages in the cache.

For many, language is less of a barrier than fear, and fear may be hard to staunch, since the Obama administration has made clear it won’t end immigration raids in April.

“As you might imagine, the ability of one federal agency to ask another federal agency to cease activities consistent with their mission is almost zero,” Groves said. ” There will be no formal request to the dhs for the halting of those raids.”

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