2020 Census Latinx
Copyright photo by Michelle R. Smith of The Associated Press

Equal Voice

How One Group Is Facing the Challenge of the 2020 Census

February 24, 2020

By Eduardo Stanley

Community leaders with nonprofit organizations are speaking with people about the importance of the 2020 Census. Learn about the efforts of CHIRLA, one of those organizations, and its outreach work with the Latinx community in California.

The census is undertaken every 10 years, and its goal is to count all the residents of the country – not including tourists. The census is important because the number of federal representatives depends on the number of people in a given area. It also determines the amount of federal funding each area receives for social programs, infrastructure projects and much more.

For many people, the census is more than a simple head count.

The first U.S. census was undertaken in 1790, and it recorded slightly fewer than 4 million inhabitants. It was also established in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution.

We ask the people we contact to sign a commitment card, whereby they promise to fill out the census questionnaire.
Esperanza Guevara of CHIRLA

As population numbers increased over time, counting all the residents – the Constitution does not state it is to count only citizens – became a more complicated task.

“We began preparing in April of last year,” said Esperanza Guevara, head of the 2020 Census Campaign for Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “We involved all the people and programs of our organization.”

CHIRLA is one of the country’s organizations that will help count. To that end, it has received funds from the U.S. Census Bureau and from foundations. It is a big responsibility, particularly since there are sectors of the Latinx community who are not typically counted, who are “invisible.”

“We do presentations, forums and workshops. We go to schools, churches…,” said Guevara. “We take the opportunity to additionally offer other kinds of information, for example, regarding immigration matters.”

There are numerous reasons many people are not included in the count. For example, many undocumented immigrants fear the information they provide in the census questionnaire may be used against them – and result in their deportation. Or there may be limited English-language abilities.

“Many young people know nothing of the census. This may be because it is usually the adults who fill out the questionnaires,” said Guevara.

Or some people simply forget to fill out the questionnaire.

That’s why CHIRLA is implementing a reminder.

“We ask the people we contact to sign a commitment card, whereby they promise to fill out the census questionnaire,” said Guevara. “In March, we will send another reminder to these people.”

In the opinion of many Latinx leaders and activists, it is hardest to count people in rural areas. That may be particularly true in the upcoming 2020 Census, in which the population is asked to answer the questionnaire over the Internet. The level of computer use in rural communities is low, and there is sometimes no Internet service.

“In the Central Valley, San Bernardino and Orange County, we are going door to door, talking with people about the census,” said Guevara. “And we also urge people to vote.”

CHIRLA is dedicated to defending the rights of immigrants; it was created after the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.  Besides working with immigrants, CHIRLA works at getting out the vote and civic participation.

Recently, CHIRLA visited the community of Hesperia in East Los Angeles on Candlemas. In the local church, where almost 1,000 devoted Catholics were in attendance, representatives spoke with people about the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census. More than 100 people signed the commitment card.

This year, for the first time, the census will initially ask the population to fill out the questionnaire on the Internet. Guevara said if this is not done the U.S. Census Bureau will send reminders. If there is still no answer, a printed version of the questionnaire will be sent by mail. And finally, if there is no response, the U.S. Census Bureau will send census-takers to those homes.

In addition, most public libraries will designate at least one computer per location for the census, and librarians will help answering questions regarding computer use and access to the census Internet page, though they will not be authorized to provide answers for the questionnaire. This service is free of charge.

Guevara said no questions regarding citizenship were included on the questionnaire. The Trump administration wanted to include that question, but a federal court blocked it, since the information is confidential.

Guevara said that Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Pacific Standard Time), the CHIRLA offices answer people’s questions regarding the census, especially about how to fill out the questionnaire. Those who need help can call 888-6-CHIRLA or 213-353-1333.


Marguerite Casey Foundation is co-publishing this story, which originally appeared in La Opinión, as part of its ongoing partnership with ImpreMedia, a national media organization that includes: La Opinión, in Los Angeles; La Raza in Chicago; El Diario in New York City; and La Prensa in Orlando. Eduardo Stanley wrote this for La Opinión.

How One Group Is Facing the Challenge of the 2020 Census