The Census

Rafael Puyol. Vicepresident. IE Foundation

6 July 2010

The ongoing debate about getting all immigrants, legal or not, to sign the census is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the scope of our social policy that is at stake here.

It’s true there is a contradiction in immigration policies that expel illegal immigrants and, at the same time, force local authorities to include all the residents in their municipalities on the census. It’s true there are overcrowded flats that house more immigrants than they should. It’s true that there are many foreigners who, with a simple tourist visa, sign on the census to gain access to social services. It is true that just as there are immigrants without papers, and that there are also papers without immigrants - in other words, there are people on the census who do not live where they say they do.

It’s true that censuses are sometimes inflated for electoral or economic purposes. But the Census is not to blame for any of the above. Its purpose is not exclusively that of providing a headcount, but rather, thanks to the right and duty of all citizens (with or without papers) to register with the census, it is a primary source of demographic information. The census enables us to know how many foreigners we have and how many of them (approximately) are illegal. And it is essential for a country to have certain basic information about its entire population so that its present and future needs can be anticipated and planned.

It is reasonable to try to correct the cases of census fraud. It is also reasonable to try to set certain conditions that should be fulfilled before registering on the census. It is also sensible to accept much-needed legal immigration and try to control illegal immigration. But then we will still have to find a procedure for discovering how many ‘de iure’ homeless there are, and address the problem of their health care and schooling. Because if we are going to continue to give them those services, what does it matter if they are on the census or not?
Today’s ongoing debate goes far beyond mere registration with the census. What we are talking about is the nature and scope of our social policies. Like any delicate flower, let’s leave the census alone.


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