Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, Oregon advocates hope immigrant communities will be more likely to participate.
Chi Nguyen, co-chair of the Oregon Complete Count Committee and vice chair of the Coalition of Communities of Color, says she’s glad the Supreme Court made the decision now because it removes the “fear, something that was used to weaponize the census away from being what it should have been all about, which is a fair and accurate and safe account of our population.”
The census is used by an array of public and private agencies to dole out government money and plan where and to whom services and development should go. According to the 2010 census, less than 80% of Oregon households mailed back their questionnaires and 20% responded to the in-person count. But advocates say some communities were still uncounted or undercounted — resulting in federal dollars being left on the table.
“We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision today to prohibit the inclusion of an unnecessary citizenship question,” said Andreas Williams, the executive director of Causa, an immigrant rights group said. “The Supreme Court’s decision means that immigrant communities can now participate in the census without fear.”
A question about citizenship hasn’t been included on the U.S. census since 1950.
“It was never about how you got here,” Nguyen said. “If you’re here, you matter, and that’s where we’re hoping others will stand with us in solidarity.”
Nguyen is also the executive director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. Before joining APANO a year ago, she worked in market research, which she says informs the way that she looks at the census.
“As a data geek, we really should protect and honor the research process and an accurate count and not fudge with the numbers that we need to rely on so heavily,” she said, noting that census data is used for everything from where businesses put new retail stores to how many classrooms and teachers schools receive to where affordable housing is built.
Oregon Complete Count Committee plans to focus its statewide effort next year on communities that have historically proven hard to count, including rural and low-income families, members of the LGBTQ community, non-English speakers and undocumented immigrants, and people with mental and physical disabilities.
Williams said the exclusion of the citizenship question is helpful, but the general climate around immigrants has created fear and uncertainty in those communities.
“That is why it will be so important that we have strong outreach efforts on the ground,” she said.
Sharing America: A Public Radio Collaboration
Erica Morrison is part of the public radio collaborative “Sharing America,” covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in the Northwest and Hartford, Connecticut, St. Louis and Kansas City. You can find more “Sharing America” coverage here.