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Counting illegals in 2010 census important, but tricky

The statewide push to hang onto the Bay State's 10 congressional seats after the 2010 census will be tested in the efforts to count illegal immigrants, officials said yesterday.

With federal money distributed based on a number of factors, including the population, it is especially important that all residents - regardless of their immigration status - are included in the census, they said.

In many countries, a census often isn't done at all or doesn't carry the same weight as it does in the United States. According to Kathleen Ludgate, regional director for the United States Census Bureau's Boston office, it is essential to educate illegal immigrants on the importance of returning census forms.

"Immigrants are a population we want to be sure we reach out to," said Ludgate.

Legislators recently approved a $600,000 payment to the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute, with offices in several cities, that will allow workers there to estimate the number of people in a given city, town or neighborhood.

Donahue Institute workers will work with census officials, doing surveys and other data collection in an effort to better count all residents in every community.

But Michael Goodman, director of economics and public policy research at the Donahue Center, is not sure how illegal immigrants will factor into the estimates, saying federal officials themselves have trouble locating them.

"We're going to do our best, but it's going to be incumbent on our secretary of state's office to make sure all people who live here receive a census form," he said. "I don't think anybody has come up with an effective way to track these folks. Really, the only way to do it is by their presence in other records and lists."

Goodman expects much of the money to be used to better calculate the number of people living in group quarters, such as college dormitories, nursing homes, halfway houses and military barracks.

"There's been a real missed opportunity in that area," he said, noting that state officials have not provided updated numbers for group quarters since the 2000 census was published.

Census officials recently sent invitations to all cities and towns, asking for their cooperation in updating address lists before the census forms are sent out in late March 2010.

Ludgate hopes all communities will create a complete count committee, made up of officials and residents at large who will try to track total numbers of people living in all homes in places like Framingham, where thousands of illegal aliens from Brazil and other countries are said to live.

Officials have begun meeting with the mayors of some of the cities in their regions, she said.

The Census Bureau will set up assistance centers across the country, as it did for the 2000 report, said Ludgate. At that time, workers spoke almost 60 languages. The questionnaire itself will be printed in English and Spanish only, she said.

The eight questions on the 2010 census form are expected to focus on age, gender, race, ethnicity and home ownership status. The questionnaire would be one of the shortest since the nation's first census in 1790.

"Having the community leaders onboard with this and helping us out has really proven to be a great success in the past," said Ludgate. "We know that their cooperation will make for a better census for everyone."

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