National Census Day, April 1, is important for immigrants and their communities

National Census Day is a few short months away, on April 1. No fooling! Nonprofit organizations, faith-based communities and local governments have been preparing for two years to ensure everyone is counted. Data that is gathered from the census helps determine governmental district boundaries, ensures states are accurately represented in the U.S. House of Representatives, and is part of the formulas for how federal funding is allocated among social service agencies, highway planning, educational grants and other types of programs. 

The Constitution requires that everyone living in the United States participate in the census every 10 years. Nevertheless, people of color, those living in poverty, people experiencing homelessness, rural communities, religious minorities and immigrant communities often go undercounted. Fear, mistrust and lack of awareness about the process are among the reasons some don’t participate. Others may be unaware of how the confidential data is used. 

CLINIC affiliate Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton is working to address those gaps. During the 2010 census, Trenton had significant underreporting, with a less than 60% return rate of census forms. This year, the agency has a grant from the state of New Jersey to expand outreach and improve census reporting among hard-to-count populations. Catholic Charities Trenton will use part of the grant to reach people in its community food pantries. It will hold several mobile census events, giving people without internet access the chance to use computers to complete census forms online. 

In a neighboring county, outreach will be led by El Centro de Recursos para Familias, which serves a large Latino community. They intend to meet with people where they are, quite literally. Program staff will visit supermarkets, bodegas, hair salons, and fast food restaurants, as well as work with Catholic parishes, according to Roberto Hernandez, director of El Centro de Recursos Para Familias. Hernandez doesn’t hesitate to devote staff time to encourage the Latino community to participate. “They trust us and they appear to understand what this could do for our community,” he said. Beginning in March, El Centro offices will open to the public several days a week as a place to complete census forms.

Similar to Catholic Charities of Trenton, other faith leaders are using local relationships to promote participation in the census. The Advocate newspaper reported that in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, local agencies and faith-based communities teamed up to create a city-parish campaign. Their goal is to motivate and encourage residents in majority-minority neighborhoods to take part in the census.

“It is important to us that we use trusted voices or messengers to reach out in those communities,” said Nicole Jolly, director of strategic initiatives with the Urban League of Louisiana and member of the city-parish campaign. 

As trusted and respected members of their communities, people of faith seek to protect and promote dignity of all. One way to do so is to encourage participation in the census. Faith in Public Life, a coalition of religious leaders and faith-based organizations, have been working together to promote the census. The 2020 Census Faith Toolkit includes talking points, tips for sermons and for speaking to various types of groups, and other tips for promoting census participation in faith settings.

Regardless of income, race, religion or immigration status, participation in the census offers the opportunity for everyone to be included. “The census is the most inclusive civic activity,” said Habon Abdulle, executive director of Women Organizing Women Network, in a YouTube video produced by We Count Minnesota. “It counts everybody who lives in the state. And that’s how you show you are part of [a] great state.”

CLINIC applauds the efforts of the countless organizations and faith leaders across the nation that have worked tirelessly to educate their communities around the census and continue to encourage participating on April 1. To learn more visit Immigrant Integration and The Census.

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