US Census and Discriminatory Hiring Practices

Excellent Article on Census and Discriminatory Hiring Practices in Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune, Friday, August 27, 1999. Pg. 3.
By Frank James, Washington Bureau. Tribune intern William P. Bohlen contributed to this report.
For the moment, legal immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and India need not apply.
The job is census taker, and it is central to the once a decade American rite of counting the population. But legislation funding the Commerce Department, which oversees the census, bars the hiring of immigrants who are not from countries on a list assembled by the State Department. The provision is intended to ensure work for U.S. citizens.
The decades-old law states that immigrants from Arab nations, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as from sub-Saharan Africa and India, are among those excluded from census employment.
At the same time, the legislation permits the hiring of legal immigrants from countries on less friendly terms with the U.S., including Cuba and
“The discriminatory aspect of this is obviously a major concern for us,” said Hussein Ibish, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which is based in Washington. His group has protested the hiring ban to Commerce Secretary William Daley.
The prohibition on certain immigrants is part of a law that applies not just to the Census Bureau but to all government activity. Since 1939, Congress has placed wording in appropriations bills to prevent using taxpayer money to pay the wages of anyone but U.S. citizens, although there were exceptions.
Owing to various historical circumstances, Cubans, Poles, people from countries that were part of the former Soviet Union and the Baltic states, as well as immigrants from the former South Vietnam, have been deemed exceptions.
Cuban immigrants were approved because their country signed the Rio Treaty with the U.S. in 1947 before that island’s communist revolution. Treaties with nearly 50 other countries meant immigrants from those places, including Australia, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, South Korea and Turkey, were also exempt.
Critics said the restrictions are especially misguided when it comes to the census because certain immigrants can help in canvassing related
For example, Ibish said the exclusion of Arab immigrants could threaten the accuracy of the count, especially in cities like Detroit with its large community of Arab-Americans and non-citizen Arabs.
“Certainly it would be a very complicating factor if legal immigrants from the Arab world are disqualified from becoming enumerators,” Ibish said. Enumerators are people who go door to door duringthe head count. Recent immigrants who speak little or no English would most trust census takers who are immigrants and Arab-speaking, he said.
TerriAnn Lowenthal, a consultant for Census 2000 Initiative, an independent group seeking “an accurate, fair and comprehensive census,” said that leaving out large groups of legal immigrants could have “significant consequences for the census because the census is the largest temporary hiring activity for our government. It’s also unique in that it has to reach virtually every type of community, both culturally and ethnically. It must try and hire a pool of workers to reflect the vast diversity of the population and of our community.”
The Census Bureau says it understands those concerns and has a plan to address them. Under the law, the bureau can hire immigrants from normally excluded countries if it shows that they have a critical skill, such as speaking their native tongue to fellow immigrants.
For the 1990 count, the bureau used that waiver to hire 14,000 resident aliens who otherwise would have been prohibited from working for the federal government.
“We’re confident the waiver will give us every opportunity to ensure the fullest and most complete count next year,” said Steven Jost, a Census Bureau spokesman.
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