Arizona officials are concerned that undocumented immigrants may not participate in the next census fearing deportation and as retaliation for immigrant crackdowns.
The next census is less than a year away and already officials have launched a campaign to build trust among undocumented immigrants who maybe afraid to be counted.
The Census Bureau does not care about immigration status and does not share the information it collects with enforcement agencies, said Vianey Celestino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Census based in Arizona.
Without an accurate census count, the state could lose millions of dollars in federal funding for roads, schools, redevelopment and other projects, Celestino said.
Census numbers are also used to redraw congressional districts every 10 years. If the census accurately reflects a state's growing population, it could gain seats. "We are trying to count everyone," Celestino said.
Census officials recently began contacting churches, schools and community organizations to help get the message out that immigrants have nothing to fear in filling out census forms.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix plans to ask priests of Spanish-speaking congregations to urge parishioners to participate, said Hispanic Ministry Director Jose Robles.
During the 2000 census, 63 percent of the state's residents returned forms. The national response rate was 67 percent, according to census numbers.
Census officials estimate that nearly 75,000 Arizona residents were overlooked in 2000, including about 18,750 people in Phoenix, said Tammy Perkins, an official in the Phoenix City Manager's Office.
A similar undercount in 2010 would cost Phoenix $75 million in revenue over 10 years, Perkins said.
About 9 percent of the population, or about 500,000 illegal immigrants live in Arizona, the highest share of any state in the nation, according to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center, a research group in Washington, D.C.