Historic Caribbean Census Bill Introduced In U.S. Congress

NEW YORK, NY: A historic bill that calls for Caribbean nationals to have their own origins category on the U.S. Census form was introduced last week by Caribbean-American Congresswoman, Yvette D. Clarke, of New York’s 11th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Clarke bill calls for all questionnaires “used in the taking of any decennial census of the U.S. population, to include a checkbox or other similar option so that respondents may indicate Caribbean extraction or descent.”

The bill was lobbied for by CaribID founder, Felicia Persaud. The movement’s goals are specific: to get Caribbean nationals accurately counted and to have their own origins Census category on all census forms.  

“In conducting the 2010 decennial census and every decennial census thereafter, the Secretary of Commerce shall include, in any questionnaire distributed or otherwise used for the purpose of determining the total population by states, a checkbox or other similar option by which respondents may indicate Caribbean extraction or descent,” states the bill.

Clarke said, as a daughter of Caribbean immigrants herself, she is especially “proud of the measure and sees it as a great accomplishment”.

“We introduced a bill which would draw attention to the 2010 census to help get the message out and help ensure the hard to count population is reached,” the congresswoman told CaribWorldNews. “It would push to provide an origins check box to allow (Caribbean nationals) and those with (Caribbean) ancestry to check that category. We examined the form and found this to be lacking.

“Being specific on the Census form will allow the federal government to be able to allocate resource to communities of Caribbean nationals and their descendants.”

The congresswoman, who was part of a group of Congressional members invited to accompany President Barack Obama … to Trinidad and Tobago for the 5th Summit of the Americas from April 17 – 19, credited Persaud, Chuck Mohan and Irwine Clare for making the case for such a measure given the vast growth of the Caribbean Diaspora in the U.S.

Clarke is the daughter of successful Jamaican immigrants. Her mother, Una Clarke, was the first Caribbean national elected to the New York City Council.

Persaud praised the congresswoman and her staff for the bold and momentous move.

“This is truly an extraordinary step by our own Caribbean American congresswoman, who truly understands the struggles of the Caribbean community across the U.S., which continues to be dismissed simply because we have no means of accurately counting our bloc,” said Persaud. “Respect comes from Census numbers and until you are truly recognized and accurately counted by the U.S. Census, the growth of this vibrant group and its potential will never be truly realized. We see this as the first step in the battle to get this category, but one that is truly significant.”

Persaud added that the Clarke bill gives the Caribbean community renewed impetus to ensure they lobby around this cause and, most importantly, fill out and return the 2010 Census form, especially by writing in their country of origin under question 8.

The origin’s category is not an ethnic category so this will not divide the Black or Asian or any other ethnic group that may perceive this as a ‘divide and rule’ strategy, Persaud said.

Ann Walters, director of CaribID, Washington, D.C., added that “having this bill introduced by Congresswoman Clarke is putting us in the right direction for changes in the census form.”

“Caribbean nationals can now feel they are part of the process,” said Walters, but warned Caribbean nationals and Caribbean Americans to mobilize around the census and realize the importance of “our community being counted accurately as a bloc”.

Chuck Mohan, board member of CaribID, also applauded Clarke.

“It is the first step in a long battle to get ‘Caribbean’ as a specific origins box on the Census form,” said Mohan. “Now we need to educate Caribbean nationals on the importance of why they must fill out the 2010 form and, most of all, lobby to make this bill law.”

The bill has been referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which oversees such changes and is headed up by Brooklyn Congressman, Ed Towns. It comes on the heels of HR 1504, which was introduced on March 12 by Congressman Charles Rangel to call for the inclusion of the category of ‘Dominican’ as a separate category in the Hispanic question on the 2010 Census.

Clarke said the hard work starts now to get support from other congressional members and to build a coalition on the Hill to boost support and make the proposal a reality.

“Regardless of where they reside, Caribbean nationals should contact their representatives to become sponsors of the bill and start a letter writing campaign to the speaker and chair of the Government Reform Committee.”

In explaining the process, Clarke also said a senator is now needed to introduce a similar legislation in the Senate.

The bill will soon be given a number and then be passed to the Sub-committee for Information Policy, Census and National Archives, headed by Congressman Lacy Clay.

It will then be passed to the full reform committee and then on to the House for a full vote.

The Census, taken every 10 years since 1790, determines how more than $300 billion in federal funding is allocated to states and communities to pay for highway construction, education, Medicaid, hospitals, childcare and senior citizen centers, housing and more. Census data are also used to determine the number of congressional seats each of the 50 states will have; by corporations to determine advertising buys and sponsorships and by non-profit groups to determine funding possibilities.

For more information on CaribID and getting involved in the movement to get Caribbean nationals counted, log on to http://www.caribid2010.com. (CaribPR Newswire)

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