Survey suggests no growth in city’s Haitian population

According to data recently released by the United States Census Bureau, Boston’s Haitian community has not grown in the past decade and immigration from the Caribbean is in decline. However, local experts question whether these numbers should be taken at face value.

This data comes from the 2005-2009 American Community Survey (ACS), a five-year survey meant to provide insight into the demographic makeup of American neighborhoods through sample groups, rather than a direct count performed every decade.

The survey states that 18,124 Boston residents identified themselves as being of Haitian descent in 2009, compared to 18,790 in 2000. The survey indicates that Haitians now make up 2.9 percent of the 625,304 individuals living in the Hub. Despite the decrease, Haitians remain the seventh most commonly cited ancestry of Boston residents sampled, following closely behind the Dominican Republic. When combined, the Dominican Republic and Haiti account for nearly two thirds of all foreign born residents of Caribbean descent in the city.

Although the ACS indicates the Haitian presence in Boston is diminishing, UMass Boston Public Policy researcher Alix Cantave believes the survey’s reliance on sample populations and difficulties reaching minority groups create a clouded picture.

“This is not an exact count but a survey based on polling only a fraction of the population,” Cantave said. “You can get some very skewed numbers if the sample group does not represent the rest of the area.”

Other findings from the ACS indicate Cantave’s hesitancy to accept these numbers could be well placed. The survey indicates that 28 percent less people have immigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean since 2000 when compared to the 1990s. However a study released by the Boston Redevelopment Authority last December stated that without a continuous influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and Latin America, the population of the city would have declined, rather than grown between 2009 and 2000.

Cantave attributes this conflicting information in part to immigrant residents without legal citizenship who may be hesitant to participate in the census for fear of deportation, saying that tightened immigration controls have forced almost half of all Caribbean Visa-holders to stay within the U.S. After their documents have expired.

“The huge growth in the population of this country is primarily through immigration,” Cantave said. “But it’s becoming much harder to acquire green cards, those who entered the country since 2000 on Visas that have since run out are unlikely to have themselves counted.”

Cantave said census undercounts are common in neighborhoods like Mattapan, which had 37 percent more Haitian residents than the citywide average, but only had a 55 percent response rate to the ACS.
“If you really want know where our populations stand, you need to reach out to community groups and churches,” Cantave said. “The Census takers tried to reach out, but more certainly could have been done.”