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L.A. Told of Glitch in Census Note

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Supervisor Gloria Molina alerted people Monday not to be thrown off if they notice a printing glitch in an advance letter being mailed out next week by the U.S. Census Bureau, and stressed that the document is vital to those who want to request a questionnaire in a language other than English.

The advance letter, to be mailed nationwide Monday, informs people in English that the questionnaire should arrive within a week. But what’s key to minority communities is that it also includes short paragraphs in Spanish, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Chinese and Korean, asking people to check a box if they would rather have the questionnaire mailed to them in one of those languages.

Checking the box will allow the Census Bureau to reach communities that are traditionally undercounted, said Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

At a news conference at MALDEF headquarters in Los Angeles with Molina, Hernandez had comments directed specifically at Latinos but one that also applies to others who would prefer to complete the questionnaire in a language other than English.

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She exhorted people, especially illegal immigrants afraid that census officials will reveal their status to authorities, not to fear being counted.

“It’s important that our community know they have a right to be counted, regardless of their immigration status,” Hernandez said.

Also addressed Monday was a mistake in the mailing address of all advance letters, in which an extra digit appears next to the residence number. Some officials fear that the glitch might baffle residents who think the post office made a mistake and that the letter is not intended for them.

Because of the error, if someone lives at 213 Elm St., the address might read 1213 Elm St. (numbers from 1 to 5 have been mistakenly added).

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But residents should be aware that the letter is still meant for their household, and they should open and respond to it in spite of the incorrect address, Molina and Hernandez said.

Officials with the U.S. Postal Service said the error, a printing mistake by a private vendor, is not expected to affect the mailing of advance letters because the bar code and ZIP Code information--the two key elements used by the postal service to deliver letters--are printed correctly.

“America can count on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver this and all future census mailings. Our high-speed, automated sorting machines can read the proper address from the bar code on the mail piece,” said postal service spokesperson Judy A. de Torok in a statement.

The mistake will not be present on census forms, officials said, because the printing and addressing of the letter are managed independently of the processing of census questionnaires.

Hernandez said her organization--and other Latino community leaders--had long argued with the Census Bureau that many non-English speakers might ignore the advance letter if it was written in English. Trying to get the bureau to issue separate letters in Spanish as well as English--at least in California--was “a lost battle,” Hernandez said.

However, said David Hoffman, a Census Bureau spokesman in Washington: “For the sake of efficiency and to avoid unnecessary duplication, we determined that sending one letter, which included information in six languages, made the most sense.”

Moving forward, Hernandez said MALDEF’s approach now is to educate and make as many people as possible aware of the importance of requesting the questionnaire in another language via the advance letter.


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