Ensuring an accurate 2020 Census is crucial for all communities, nationwide. 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.
No matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, immigrant and minority advocacy groups at the state and national levels are confident that the population will stand up and be counted.
In California, over 15 million people are considered hard to count, including 2.5 million living in Los Angeles County.
“Our goal is to reach 2.7 million people statewide,” said Esperanza Guevara, coordinator of the Contamos Contigo census campaign carried out by the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). “We have developed a comprehensive campaign in our Latino, refugee and limited-English communities to make sure they have the support and resources they need to understand what these forms are all about.”
Still, she recognized the challenges of counting Latinos who live in crowded garages or apartments and do not feel comfortable sharing their private information.
Under the law, all census information must remain strictly confidential. Neither the federal government nor anyone else may use it to enforce immigration laws. Any violation of this confidentiality requirement carries criminal penalties up to $250,000 and five years in jail.
“We know that the [Trump] administration wants to intimidate our communities and families,” she said. “My own family has been living in the U.S. for 30 years and has never participated in the census.”
Her parents did not understand why they were being asked for this information and were leery of providing it, but after she explained it to them, they understood the importance of standing up and being counted.
Kimi Lee, director of Bay Rising, a San Francisco Bay Area immigrant advocacy organization, said they will reach nearly a million people through door-to-door campaigns, phone banks, artistic and cultural events, social media and traditional media.
“We’re prioritizing talking to our hard-to-count communities, such as Asian and Latino immigrants,” she explained. “We will work to ensure that everyone is counted, without exception, and that our voices are heard.”
Lee added: “If they don’t count us, for instance, as communities of color, immigrants, or young people, our states and neighborhoods risk losing everything, from seats in Congress to billions in government funding that would go to our kids: classrooms, clinics, transportation, jobs in our communities, and more. The census counts, and so do you. It’s about our future. This is another opportunity to show the power of our communities and fight for real democracy and the resources we need, no matter what we look like or what language we speak.”
Nothing to Fear: MALDEF
“Leaving aside the question about citizenship, we know that many Latinos just don’t trust the Trump administration to respect census confidentiality laws,” said Thomas Sáenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It is also important to keep in mind that the citizenship question is just about citizenship; information about [immigration] status will not be asked of anyone who is not a citizen … In fact, the easiest way to avoid further contact from the Census Bureau is to fill the form out completely from the start of the process.”
Working with Latinos and African Americans in Mississippi
Mississippi Equal Voice Network Weaver Melvin Young noted that the “hostile or intimidating environment” of the federal government could discourage participation by Latinos and Asians.
According to the census bureau, Mississippi has a small but growing immigrant community, many of them from Mexico.
In 2016, 86,507 Hispanic people, mostly of Mexican origin, represented 4.2 percent of the total state population, although the real numbers may be closer to 200,000.
Main countries of origin included Mexico (36 percent of immigrants), India (6.7 percent), Vietnam (6 percent), China (4.9 percent) and Philippines (4.3 percent).
“We have been talking with a lot of our Latino and Asian brothers and sisters,” said Young. “Many of them don’t trust the process, but we have been working hard to build relationships of trust so they will fill out the census.”
In the diverse counties along the Mississippi Delta, poverty rates are high, and in 2015, over 14,000 people received unemployment benefits. In the same period, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security reported over 40,000 unfilled jobs.
“One of the issues that concerns us is that in the last census, they tried to remove Black people who were living in public housing,” said Young.
According to a December report by the Carsey School of Public Policy of the University of New Hampshire, populations at risk of not being counted include African Americans living in the South, Hispanics in the Southeast, Native Americans living on reservations, Alaska Natives, residents of the Appalachians and migrant and seasonal workers.
Furthermore, of the 34 majority-African-American counties considered hard to count, almost half were in Mississippi. The other 18 were in Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Census Essential for Asian Americans
The 2020 Census will be particularly important for the 22.1 million Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders living in the country, including 7 million in California.
“Over 60 percent of Americans of Asian origin are immigrants, and over 90 percent are either immigrants or children of immigrants,” said Michelle Boykins, director of strategic communications for the nationwide organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC). “Given the current climate and this administration’s rhetoric around immigrants, there is a serious concern in the community about how census information will be used, whether or not the citizenship question ends up on the final form.”
Census data guides the allocation of over $800 billion per year in federal funds for building schools, roads, businesses and hospitals. It helps determine what improvements will be made to transportation services such as subways, trains and buses. The census also determines a fair and just representation in the government, including the number of seats in Congress and in state and local legislative bodies.
Boykins added that AAJC has been working hard to use its networks to reach hundreds of thousands of Asian Americans through census outreach activities.
“Our network of 160 community partners in 32 states and the District of Columbia has made sure to spread our message not just at the national level, but at the state and local levels as well,” she said. “The Asian American and Pacific Islander community is incredibly diverse, including almost 50 different ethnicities and over 100 languages. We may not be able to reach everyone, but we will try.”
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. Jorge Luis Macías wrote this for La Opinión.