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County census reps meet with state officials

In 1995 the Latino community was virtually nonexistent in Russellville and Franklin County, but 25 years later, approximately 50 percent of Russellville is made up of Latinos. As the 2020 census approaches, the Franklin County Census Committee is working to build a relationship with the Latino population to ensure an accurate count.

“The biggest thing in all of this is building trust,” said Franklin County Census senior coordinator Dick Rowland. “They need to understand that none of this information is released for 72 years, and no one asks if they are legal or illegal. We don’t care.”

Rowland and several other members of the Franklin County Census Committee were recently part of a meeting with state officials in regards to the census, discussing its importance as well as the challenges Franklin County faces.

The census gives a number of how many people, legal or illegal, live in an area so funds can be divided. Alabama receives almost $1,600 a year each year for each individual counted in the census. This money goes toward government activities at the state, county and city level, such as public schools, emergency services and housing assistance.

“The schools really are the big heroes in all of this,” Rowland said. “They get money based on how many children are in that area, so in some cases they have just been swallowing that expense because so many of these children aren’t counted. There may come a day when they can’t afford to do that.”

Russellville’s Guillermo Vasquez, who has been heavily involved in the Franklin County Census Committee and joined Rowland for the state meeting, said one of the things that makes convincing the Latino community to complete the census so difficult is educating residents about the census while combating their fears.

“They have no trust in government,” Vasquez said. “And it’s tough because they watch all of these things going on in the news, and they have even less trust.”

Rowland said Vasquez will play a big role in educating the Latino community on the census.

“They are a whole lot more likely to trust him because he knows what it is like than to trust me,” Rowland said. “Why would they trust me with everything going on?”

The Franklin County census has a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” concerning legal status of community members. According to the county website, the goal is to promote thriving and peaceful communities rather than destructive ones.

The census has no connection to law enforcement. All data from the census is confidential until 72 years later, when it will be released for historic purposes to websites such as ancestry.com.

“That is another big thing about it: Although you may not want people to know you’re in this country now, not participating in the census also basically erases your family from history,” Vasquez said. 

The census will begin in March 2020. Community members can take the census online, by phone or by mail. The census will not include questions about Social Security numbers or employers. Some of the questions on the census will be phone number and names of all family members to ensure no one is counted twice.

For more information on the census, visit franklincountyal.org/2020-census. Rowland and Vasquez are coordinating with Franklin County Commissioner Jason Miller to spearhead promotional efforts.