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Raising the 2020 Census Count in Immigrant Communities


In a few weeks, every household in the country will be mailed a Census form. Each form looks like a simple postcard, but when added together, the results will impact everything from congressional seats to federal funding.

Compared to the rest of the country, far fewer New Yorkers complete the forms, especially among immigrant communities. And the US Census Bureau recently predicted New York City’s response rate this year will be even lower than the last Census. Megan Cattel reports on a city-wide campaign to try to fix that.

MEGAN CATTEL, BYLINE: When Fadia Mohama talks to people in Corona about the Census, they’re usually hesitant. She works with Commonpoint Queens, a social services non-profit.

FADIA MOHAMA: A lot of people are afraid that the census is going to share this information with La Migra, ICE. Especially with this administration. It's one of the biggest fears that people have in filling out the census.

CATTEL: Corona is a neighborhood with a very big Latin American community and has one of the lowest response rates in all of New York State. Mohama says many residents worry the information could be used by the government to check everything from immigration status to whether their housing situation is legal. So many don’t send the forms back. That’s a big problem for the neighborhood, and for the city, says Amy Vertal. She’s the community grants manager for Complete the Count, a campaign created by the mayor’s office to raise census awareness in undercounted communities.

AMY VERTAL: So I think the biggest issues are really in representation. So congressional seats are determined directly by the census. And then also resources that come to our city. So a lot of different programs are either completely federally funded or have some portion of their funding. which comes from the federal funding.

CATTEL: Earlier this week, Complete the Count hosted workshops to train community groups and ensure that the Census is confidential.

ANTONIO ALARCON: So, welcome everyone to the workshop on Census, so today we’re doing 50 something, 63 presentations across the city.

CATTEL: That’s Antonio Alarcon. He presented at Alianza Ecuatoriana, a community center in Corona.

ALARCON: They will never, they will never ask you for your social security number, for a bank statement. All the employees working at the census bureau are sworn to protect your confidentiality for life. So even if they get fired, even if the census is over in July, after July they cannot be like, “Hey Walter, I know like dónde vives?”

CATTEL: Saul Reyes was one of the census volunteers at the workshop. He said it motivated him to make sure Corona gets an accurate count.

SAUL REYES: So I know the neighborhood and I know the people, and I want them to be counted. Because we're not gonna lose any more representatives in the house. No more! No, we're gonna stop that!

CATTEL: Another attendee was Julio Rosales. He’s from Guatemala, but he’s lived in Corona for the last 7 years. He was curious about the census and how to participate while maintaining his privacy.

JULIO ROSALES: (with voiceover): The specific question I have is, when people come and ask questions, you want to know if they’re part of ICE. But I know that’s not how it is. And to make sure people aren’t afraid, we’d want them to inform us that they’re different, that they’re just here for the census.

CATTEL: After attending the workshop, Julio says he’ll be sending back his census form.

ROSALES: Sí! Claro que sí!

CATTEL: I’m Megan Cattel with Uptown Radio.


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