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Orlando Sentinel

Census Data On Hispanics Not Quite Right

By Maria Padilla

August 8, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Many Hispanics awaited the latest census numbers on Central and South American population groups with much anticipation. But when the numbers arrived recently, they didn't add up.

My unscientific, but reliable, Crowd Counter indicates there are more Colombians and Dominicans in Central Florida than the census recognized.

It certainly feels that way, and who's to say that the Crowd Counter is wrong?

Not the Census Bureau. The bureau itself believes it underestimated the nation's illegal or undocumented population by about 3 million.

One big reason: Hispanics guard against government busybodies by choosing not to declare their ethnicity.

That is why total numbers of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans and others probably are higher than the official numbers.

All of which points to a need for a reality check. The time has come for the census to include a warning with its findings.

Just as auto rearview mirrors state that "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear," the census should advise that "The real numbers are higher than reported."

Common sense dictates the change.

For instance, Dominicans populate the same Northeastern cities as Puerto Ricans.

Many also are flocking to Florida for the same reasons: better economy, lower-cost housing, less crime, better schools and improved quality of life.

The census counted 11,000 Dominicans in Central Florida. Not so, according to the Crowd Counter. That number likely is closer to 20,000.

Similarly, the number of Colombians also is underreported.

Since the 1990s, Colombians have battled a drug and leftist guerrilla war. Kidnapping for ransom is common, and the Colombian government, looking to placate the guerrillas, has turned over to them whole regions of the country.

It's a great recipe for corruption and anarchy. Recognizing this, many well-to-do Colombians have fled to Florida.It doesn't seem reasonable that only 13,000 Colombians live in Central Florida. That figure probably tops 20,000 too.

Most Hispanics are immigrants, which is one reason why they are reluctant to participate in the census.

Those who haven't legalized their status are wary of deportation. Most believe that one agency, such as the Census Bureau, will report information to another, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Although that's not official policy, many people figure it's not worth the risk.

Almost any story about immigration, for instance, generates scores of calls for weeks. Most callers are Dominicans and Colombians, who are looking for information on how to legalize their status. They don't dare call the INS.

Equally large numbers also are simply contrarian.

Call them stubborn or uncooperative, but Hispanics make up about 40 percent of those who don't disclose their ethnicity. That percentage has remained consistent for decades and is too large to dismiss as "Hispanic confusion."

Judging by the contrarian factor alone, the population of Hispanic groups --immigrant or not -- is higher than officially reported.

This exercise suggests that readers should trust their instincts. Your estimates will be correct about as often as the census.

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