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Census activists take to streets

More than 100 people took to the streets in Flushing Saturday, waving balloons and signs, to encourage city residents to mail in their 2010 census forms — something Queens residents have been doing in far fewer numbers than the rest of the country.

Individuals marched from Lippmann Plaza on 39th Avenue to the intersection of Northern Boulevard and 150th Street to raise awareness about the importance of sending in the census forms that have been mailed to all city residents. The census parade was planned by the Korean American Census Task Force.

“The census is really important because we need many more services in Flushing, where we have very crowded schools,” said Jakyoung Kim, who works for the U.S. Census Bureau. “We need funding for things like schools, roads and language assistance.”

The census, conducted once a decade, will determine how many billions of dollars the city will receive in federal aid and the number of New York delegates in the U.S. House of Representatives. Census forms were mailed to city residents two weeks ago and individuals are expected to send the 10-question form in before April 15.

About 20 percent of Queens residents have completed their forms so far, compared to about 34 percent of residents nationwide, according to preliminary federal data. In Flushing, fewer than 5 percent of residents have sent in their census form, which some officials said is due to fear that information given as part of the census will be used against individuals, particularly if they are undocumented.

“People have to understand they don’t ask about your immigration status,” said Dong Chan Kim, secretary general of the Flushing-based Korean American Voters’ Council. “You don’t need to be afraid about your status.”

City Councilman Peter Koo (R-Flushing) reiterated Kim’s sentiment and urged his constituents to participate in the census.

“Many families live in the same apartment, and they think if they fill out this form they’ll be found out they’re in an illegal apartment, but they won’t,” Kim said. “The census is really important. It only takes a few minutes, and it will be used by this generation and generations to come.”

S.J. Jung, the executive director of the Minkwon Center in Flushing, said along with Saturday’s march, he and others have planned to continue their census outreach efforts by going door-to-door and phone banking.

John Park, of the Asian American Federation, said local groups like the Minkwon Center have been playing crucial roles in the 2010 census.

“The community-based organizations are vital to the outreach efforts,” Park said. “We’re partnering with community-based groups because they know where specific, hard-to-count populations are.”

Jung and others have repeatedly said in recent months they hope Queens fares better in this census than in 2000, when about 54 percent of borough residents completed the census questionnaire. The national average was 67 percent.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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