Census 2020 Will fears about a citizenship question contribute to a census undercount?

By Noah Canchola

Although President Trump backed away from his plan to force a question about citizenship onto the 2020 census questionnaire, the issue raised lingering concerns among Salinas Valley residents.

A significant segment of the Salinas Valley population is undocumented, due largely to California’s proximity to the southern border. Fear of deportation, already present among many immigrant families, naturally has grown in the Salinas Valley because of Trump’s strong interest in determining who is and is not a citizen. After he pulled back his effort to get the matter on the census forms, he instructed federal agencies to use existing means to count the number of no-citizens in the country.

Among those worried about it all is Maricarmen, an 18-year-old high school graduate and an undocumented resident of Soledad. In 2020 she will be eligible to take part in her first census. But Maricarmen and others in the community say even the possibility of a citizen question on the forms increases their fear of deportation.

“No, I will not fill out the census form (because of) everything that has been said, the wall and the racist comments that he (the president)  has made,” Maricarmen said in an interview.

“I wouldn’t risk myself and my entire family, including my siblings. I’m speaking for my own family; we are hard workers. They work every single day, and it’s hard in the fields, and they are helping the community. I would never put my family in a dangerous situation,” she said.

Rosemary Soto, the lead staffer on the complete count committee in Monterey County, said she understands the fears.

“It’s a problematic position to be in: to know the importance of the census, but to also know the fear (of deportation). It’s a concern that is very valid and real,” Soto said.

But she also sees reason for hope and reasons to answer the citizenship question if it ends up on the forms.

“I think if I was talking to someone who was undocumented, and having that conversation with that person (that) this is an opportunity to prove that you are here, we are not going anywhere,” she explained. “This is where you belong, everyone that is here belongs. This is a country of immigrants, that is how we were founded. It is also a social justice act in completing the survey.

“Now, even saying that doesn’t diminish the fear and the very real threat of deportation. Because, yes, you identify an address. Even though this threat is there, it’s our constitutional mandate; it’s a way to push back,” she said.

Soto said the census is important because it helps determine how much various communities will receive in government programs and assistance.

“When we don’t have the money to be able to serve everyone that needs it in our community, and that money is coming from the federal government, and it is based off the results of the census, we are hurting,” Soto said. “Our community, our people are hurting. That is a big issue right there.”

She said that five people being uncounted translates to $100,000 lost to the community each year for the next decade.

With all the fear of deportation that has been brewing within this country, Carlos Castro, an East Salinas native, isn’t at all fearful in completing the 2020 census. As a DACA or Dream Act recipient, Carlos says, “I feel pretty comfortable doing it. I am willing to give my information. I feel like the biggest thing people are worried about is their status within this country, citizenship is a big issue.

“I feel like people are worried about getting exposed and Trump leaking people’s information and coming after them. I don’t feel worried about doing so, I’ve done it before, I’m a Dreamer, so regardless the government has my information.”

Despite his own views, Carlos said he understands the concerns of others

“I feel like the biggest thing people are worried about is their status within this country. Citizenship is a big issue. I feel like people are worried about getting exposed and Trump leaking people’s information and coming after them,” he said.

A big question for some is whether lingering concerns about the citizenship question will cause an undercount in the census, resulting in less federal funding in states with heavy immigrant populations. Time will tell.

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.