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Set aside the heated back and forth over federal immigration policy, leaders in Linda Vista say, and you’ll see how the recent deportations in that neighborhood are discouraging immigrants from complying with another law.

Forms for the 2010 Census have started arriving in San Diego mailboxes, and returning them is required by federal law.

Leaders and community activists in Linda Vista who have been spreading the word about its importance say enforcement by immigration authorities could not have come at a worse time. They acknowledge that a large percentage of Linda Vista’s population is undocumented. But that information is irrelevant for the Census Bureau’s counting purposes.

The recent deportations, they say, have upended their outreach efforts to alleviate any fears and uncertainties undocumented immigrants may have about making sure they’re included in the decennial count.

Many residents have holed themselves up in their homes, reluctant to leave even for some basic necessities. They’ll be even less likely to return the forms that ask for family information, or answer the door for census workers in the weeks to come.

“A lot of people are saying they won’t fill it out because they’re afraid,” said Adriana Gallardo, a staff member and census outreach organizer at Linda Vista’s Bayside Community Center.

And that, said executive director Jorge Riquelme, will result in an undercount and subsequent underfunding for San Diego communities.

In a recent letter to Congresswoman Susan Davis and Sen. Barbara Boxer, Riquelme urged the representatives to advocate for an immediate, temporary halt to immigration enforcement in order to allow the Census process to continue smoothly.

With massive outreach efforts underway and billions of dollars being invested to promote the Census 2010, it is contradictory to expect open participation from communities who are intimidated by the fear that the next time they open their door they will be deported. …

The state of California could lose out on tens of millions of dollars because of the many people who won’t be counted by the U.S. Census. … [W]e believe a suspension of enforcement activities will be important to encourage immigrant households to return their census forms.

In 1990 and 2000, agreements between the U.S. Census Bureau and federal immigration agencies in some cases temporarily suspended enforcement activities in the interest of promoting cooperation with the census within immigrant communities.

No such agreement has been made this time around.

— ADRIAN FLORIDO

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