Week 16: August 12, 20
Not only is 2020 an election year, but it is also a census year, a nation wide constitutionally mandated form that counts every person in the United States, regardless of age, legal status, or any other factor. The census, which occurs every 10 years, is used to determine the amount of people living in each state, city, and county so that government representation and billions of dollars worth of funding can be proportionally allocated.
It is a legal imperative that everyone fill out the form, and it is the government’s job to make sure that it happens. However this is not an easy task to accurately count the over 300 million people living in the United States, especially when many of them are not comfortable filling out the form.
The census, along with finding out how many people live where, also asks some simple background questions which for many white citizens are innocuous. However, because of the betrayals and deliberate, systemic discrimination perpetrated by the U.S. government against many minorities and immigrants, many people have lost trust in the government and choose not to fill out the census because of fear. This perpetuates a cycle of inequality as communities who have and do face discrimination will receive less representation and less funding because they are undercounted.
For minority communities, language barriers, lack of access, and mistrust in the government are all factors that may lead to under-representation if not properly addressed. Within immigrant communities, distrust in the 2020 census was exacerbated by the proposal of reinstating the citizenship question (removed after the 1950s). As mentioned above, the Constitution states that EVERYONE be counted, even if they do not have citizenship as they are still part of the economy and deserve representation.
With an increase in ICE raids under the current presidential administration, there is an understandable fear that the database could be used to target immigrant families. While census officials claim it is to ensure that the voting rights act is enforced, and the information about individuals would not be released, the fear it creates would almost certainly result in a lower turnout for immigrant communities.
Thankfully, the addition of the question was blocked by the Supreme Court and because of the time pressure (the results must be submitted by December 31, 2020), the administration did not have the opportunity to pursue the issue much. While the question was not added, the mistrust between immigrant communities and the government persists, particularly under the current administration.
The use of the census as a means of discrimination and prosecution is not a new one. During WWII, the information from the 1940 Census was shared under the Second War Powers Act to target individuals and communities of recent Japanese descent, rounding up over 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps. Additionally, after the 9/11 attacks, census data was again used to find communities with high concentrations of Arab Americans.
Both of these examples help illustrate why minority communities are fearful of disclosing their information in this year’s census, as the President and his administration have shown a certain disregard for tradition, rules, and basic human rights, particularly regarding immigrants with his policy of family separation and the Muslim Ban.
Immigrant communities are now in a bind, as they must either risk being targeted in the future, or being undercounted and therefore under-resourced and under-represented. There is also, of course, the challenges faced this year with the Coronavirus pandemic and the chaotic election year which has made it that much more difficult for the census to be successfully completed.
However, it is imperative that we ensure members of all communities are able to and feel safe completing the census so that they can receive the funding and legislative representation which they deserve. Failing to properly count individuals this year will impact the wellbeing and livelihood of minority communities for the next decade – and there have been none too few obstacles in the way.
If your family has not yet filled out the deadline, here is a link (deadline October 31):
For those who want to understand the census more in depth - here is a fantastic video.