Sofia Contreras, Grassroots Organizing Intern, discusses the 2020 census and the importance of being counted.
Starting on April 1, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau will administer the nationwide survey that counts every person living in the United States. The census is important because it pre-counts the number of seats the House of Representatives will need, determining the number of seats each state needs to represent its people. It also affects the number of electoral votes each state receives.
Data from the census is used to designate $675 billion in federal funds each year. Allocating the amount correctly is extremely important in order to know which areas need that funding to build schools, hospitals, and roads, and how to support businesses in improving communities. Communities depend on the census to make sure their needs are funded.
Unfortunately, some communities are undercounted or are considered “Hard to Count Populations.” There are many factors contributing to the undercount. The lack of familiarity with the census, language barriers, and little to no responses from poor neighborhoods are all reasons some communities may not be counted. No access to computers or wifi can also contribute. If the census does not gather the correct data, then we cannot ensure the federal funding will be used effectively.
Immigrant communities are at the top of the “Hard to Count Populations.” Many immigrant families live with the fear of ICE "(United States) Immigration and Customs Enforcement" knocking on their door to deport them to their country of origin. This fear could affect the census data because early in 2017, the Trump Administration began an attempt to add a question about an individual’s citizenship status.
After many months, a federal judge ruled that the Census 2020 census questionnaire will not include a question about citizenship. This question would have taken immigrant’s needs out of the picture.
Though the citizenship question was ruled unconstitutional to ask, the debate around this question intimidated many immigrants from participating in the census, especially because the questionnaire asks for details about households. Immigrant families may feel scared that ICE will use the information they shared in the census as an invitation to find them and deport them. This is one reason why our immigrant friends and neighbors are part of the “Hard to Count Population.”
The Trump Administration is constantly attempting to scare immigrants out of this country by threatening mass arrest and deportations. This citizenship question is a part of the larger anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Worse, this citizenship debate derails the focus from the intent of census work. The census is meant to create an overview of the total number of people in a community every decade, not to determine their immigration status. Adding the citizenship question would lead to a census where communities could not be honest about their needs. This could have long-term effects, such as the education children in a particular community receive and if they will have sidewalks to play on.
Even though this citizenship question will not be added, and immigrant rights activists won this battle, that does not mean that it might come up again in the next census in 2030. Immigrant rights activists are happy that immigrants’ rights will not be violated this census, but we know we must speak up to ensure ourselves and our neighbors are counted. Take action now and pledge to be counted in the 2020 census!