As the country prepares for the 2020 Census, there are ongoing efforts on the local level to inspire people to participate in order to produce as accurate a portrait of the area’s population demographics as possible.
These efforts have taken on renewed importance with the wave of focus on grassroots activism and local politics, and the census’ close relation to the latter. That’s led local groups, like the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County, to redouble their efforts in the area to encourage and reassure people that taking the census is safe.
There are some general concerns and confusion, but LCA Executive Director Patricia Fernandez de Castro Martinez said much of the Latino community’s fear stemmed from the potential inclusion of a citizenship question on the census.
“There was a lot of discussion about why it was being imposed, whether it would be added to the census or not, why it would be added to the census or not,” Martinez said. “There’s a whole range of things people say about it. There’s a lot of confusion and some fear. The confusion stems a lot from the fact that people are not certain if the census is something that applies to U.S. citizens or all persons in the United States and so a lot of people are wondering, ‘If I’m not a citizen, regarding my migratory status, if I’m a permanent resident, if I’m a student, if I’m here on a work visa, does it to answer to the census. An undocumented worker wonders if this applies to them.’”
The question’s inclusion had been proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration but has now been blocked by the US Supreme Court, thanks to a decision in June after a legal challenge. It was set to ask respondents to confirm or deny that they currently held legal citizenship in the United States. While the citizenship question seems new, it was once on the census previously, in 1950. When the 1960 census came, there was a question in its place asking about a person’s place of birth, according to a report from NPR.
Martinez has also noted that people are riddled with fear due to worries over whether people might hack into a database to retrieve someone’s information or worries over the recent vilification of immigrants from numerous politicians. Even with the triumph over the citizenship question, those fears haven’t been allayed.
“We need to try and reassure the Latino population and all immigrant populations that yes it applies to them, this is a count of human beings,” Martinez said. “It is for statistical purposes and for the purposes outlined in the Constitution and your information is safe. That is one big important task before not only the LCA but the state and county and city authorities. Another one is to try to make sure that people hear about this and everyone knows that they have to answer, that everyone understands how they will be able to answer, that the first stage will be online and if you haven’t answered, they will have a paper questionnaire sent to you. If you don’t answer than someone will come to your door and ask you to answer the information.”
Martinez is looking to educate people on everything from the reasons the census is done to the importance of fulfilling this obligation. The LCA has been working with the newspaper CNY Latino to advertise these issues and continue providing information at LCA events. The Tompkins County Public Library has been working with the LCA to make sure there is appropriate language support for people, filling out their census form, who speak a language other than English.
Martinez will be speaking at the Sept. 9 meeting of the Tompkins County Complete Census Count Committee to ask about joining the committee to increase the Latino community’s presence in decision-making. Most importantly, she just wants people to know that it’s okay to answer the census’s questions truthfully.
“There are all kinds of safeguards and I do hope everyone in the Latino community and the Tompkins County community, in general, counts themselves because it is very important,” Martinez said.