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The State of Census 2020: Moving On From the Citizenship Question Battle

Author: Arturo Vargas, Chief Executive Officer, NALEO Educational Fund

September 30, 2019

On July 11, President Donald Trump acquiesced to the June 27 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively prevented the Administration from including a  citizenship question on the 2020 Census form.  This effort was apparently motivated to allow states to manipulate the Census data for partisan gain during 2021 redistricting efforts.  While we collectively breathed a sigh of relief, there is significant damage to the Census Bureau’s efforts to carry out the Census next year. 

An accurate count will not come easy in Census 2020, especially given the ongoing fears that exist for many within the Latino community in the aftermath of the citizenship question fight.  Significant resources and investments in a robust outreach operation must be made to ensure that Latinos are not missed in the upcoming decennial count.  First and foremost, the Census Bureau needs adequate funding.  We are calling on Congress to appropriate $7.5 billion to the U.S. Census Bureau in FY2020 in order to help meet this goal. Since FY 2020 covers final census preparations and implementation, any delay or uncertainty in full year funding could disrupt a successful Census launch in January.  

Census 2020 is crucial for the future prosperity of the Latino community. Local and state officials rely upon Census data to show where new schools, roads, and other public facilities should be built, just as businesses look to the Census to help them determine where the necessary workforce or consumer base exists to support production and sales facilities. Without the Census Bureau having the necessary resources, our nation will not be able to capture an accurate and cost-efficient portrait of the Latino community and all communities of color in Census 2020. 

NALEO Educational Fund’s work mobilizing the nation’s second largest population group, through our ¡Hágase Contar! and ¡Hazme Contar! campaigns, remains more important than ever as we attempt to rebuild the trust that has been eroded over the course of this struggle. Standing alongside our nation’s Latino leadership and partners, we will work to educate our community and make sure that every Latino is counted in the 2020 Census.  

This is a herculean feat. Historically, certain hard-to-reach populations are more difficult to count than others. For example, Arizona is home to disproportionate shares of populations that are most frequently undercounted, including children, Latinos and Native Americans. Florida also has large numbers of Latinos and others who are not yet fully fluent in English, with almost 30 percent of Floridians speaking a language other than English at home.

With the support of the philanthropic sector, including Helios Education Foundation, we have developed a wide array of resources and collateral materials to help our partners reach their constituents with culturally-relevant and tested messages.  Partners can access these resources at our Census portal www.hagasecontar.org  

To address the aftermath of the citizenship question debacle, we will engage in a new round of messaging research later this fall, holding focus groups and conducting a nationally representative survey of hard-to-count Latinos, to determine the most credible and compelling messages to encourage our community to participate in Census 2020. 

NALEO Educational Fund will do its part to ensure our community stands up to be counted, but we will need the support and help of the nonprofit, private and public sectors working together as never before. 

We cannot afford to fail. The future of our community depends on a successful and accurate Census 2020.  

Arturo Vargas is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

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