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Problems in US census outreach to Asian Americans

First Posted 10:04:00 03/30/2010

NEW YORK, United States?The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) has complained to US Census Bureau Director Robert Groves about continuing problems in the Bureau?s programs and outreach to Asian Americans.

AALDEF, a 36-year-old New York-based national organization, released an interim assessment of the Bureau?s operations, covering a six-month period (June to December 2009) earlier this year.

AALDEF Democracy program director Glenn Magpantay said, ?Census forms are out, but people still do not know where to go for help, and in some instances, the Bureau told people they cannot get help.?

Since January 2010, AALDEF has received additional complaints from Asian American community-based organizations in 12 states. While the Census Bureau generally has been responsive to the needs of Asian Americans, problems still persist in a number of operations:

* Mistranslated Korean census forms. Community leaders complained that the Korean Be Counted forms and Language Assistance Guides were poorly translated. On the Be Counted forms, ?county? was translated into Korean as ?country? or ?nation.?

* Telephone Questionnaire Assistance (TQA) centers. Limited English proficient callers cannot get appropriate assistance from the TQA centers. Some TQA operators are unable to answer basic questions about the Census. One Korean operator even had to transfer the call to his supervisor, who spoke only English. Another Vietnamese operator had to read from a manual. The Chinese hotline is only offered in Mandarin, while Cantonese and Toisan are spoken by many elderly limited English proficient Asian Americans.

* Insufficient information about Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) and Be Counted sites. QACs and Be Counted sites are meant to accommodate individuals who do not receive census forms by mail or need assistance in completing the forms. On March 18, after a two-week delay, the Bureau launched its interactive website to find local QAC and Be Counted sites. However, the website is difficult to navigate and provides insufficient information, such as the language in which assistance is offered. In addition, some confirmed QACs were missing from the map altogether.

* Restrictions on providing assistance with Census forms. Community organizations and service providers routinely assist their clients in completing many government forms and other legal documents. However, census officials told staff of nonprofit community-based organizations and service agencies that they may not help their clients and members in completing their census forms.

* Concerns about recruitment and hiring of QAC staff and enumerators. AALDEF is concerned about the Bureau?s ability to hire sufficient bilingual census-takers for the follow-up enumeration. Census recruiters noted that many prospective enumerators, who spoke the Asian languages of various communities, were unable to pass the Census exam.

* Insufficient assistance at Questionnaire Assistance Centers. Respondents complained that the Census Bureau staff at one QAC site that serves limited English proficient Korean Americans in Philadelphia was not bilingual and was unable to help several Korean senior citizens. The employee could not even write down first and last names of Korean Americans in the correct boxes on the form.

* Available promotional materials ineffective. Although the Bureau mounted an unprecedented paid advertising and promotional media campaign, community leaders commented that some of the publicly available posters with images of food and ?Asian-themed? objects were not effective. Other ads with images of Asian American families were highly effective, but they were not printed in bulk for distribution. Magpantay criticized the Bureau, observing that, ?Too much money was spent on printing posters of baked goods made with yams instead of posters with messages that resonate with people to get counted in the census.?

* Other problems. Community leaders complained about the lack of effective advertising about the confidentiality protections of census information and insufficient Asian American outreach staff in Northern Virginia and Detroit. Census staff in New York erroneously said that there were no telephone assistance hotlines in Asian languages, only Spanish.

AALDEF said it will continue to monitor census operations and report on problems as they arise. Individuals can report problems and potential violations of law through a multilingual telephone hotline and online form to an attorney. Individuals may also download the forms, which are available in Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, English, Gujarati, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Punjabi, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

AALDEF staff are available for speaking engagements as well as in-depth trainings and workshops. For more information, contact AALDEF at 212.966.5932.

Founded in 1974, AALDEF is a national organization that protects and promotes the civil rights of Asian Americans. By combining litigation, advocacy, education, and organizing, AALDEF works with Asian American communities across the country to secure human rights for all.


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