Tag Archives: NALEO

The Census? It’s Not Over Yet!

On October 13, the US Supreme Court granted an appeal from the Trump administration to halt Census2020 on Oct 31, in a shocking reversal that will end the count sooner than expected. An earlier injunction by a California District court had allowed an extension because of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

The decision left states and census advocates scrambling to meet an impossible December 31 deadline to review, process, tabulate and report census reapportionment and redistricting data.

This means that the Census Bureau has just six weeks – not six months – before delivering apportionment counts to the President.

What Will Happen
What’s likely to happen is that the final enumeration will be inaccurate. Historically hard to count populations -minorities, people of color, and marginalized communities – will be undercounted in the final tabulation.

That, in turn, will impact the distribution of resources – funding for roads, schools, hospitals, food assistance and health services – that vulnerable communities rely on. The consequences for marginalized communities are dire. The pandemic has already restricted their use of safety net resources, but an undercount will threaten their access to those resources for the next decade.

Pushback against the new ruling has been swift.

Justice Sotomayor, dissenting from the grant of stay, wrote that “The harms caused by rushing this year’s census count are irreparable. And respondents will suffer their lasting impact for at least the next 10 years.”

Civil rights advocates say it blatantly disrupts a census count that has been ten years in the making. They denounced the Trump Administration’s countless efforts to sabotage the census for political gain, calling the ruling a dismaying decision that “undermines American livelihoods as well as our democratic system.”

Census advocates echoed this view at a briefing hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights and Ethnic Media Services on October 20.

“Everyone in America regardless of political affiliation or ethnicity, should be deeply troubled by the President’s attempt to undermine and misrepresent data from the 2020 Census,” said John Yang, President & Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).

Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League which spearheaded litigation against the Trump directives, called the Supreme Court a ‘willing co-conspirator’ that has “aided, abetted, facilitated” the administration’s effort to politically interfere with the census….and to cheat the American people of their constitutional right to representation.”

The Constitution is clear. It mandates that ‘all persons’ – not all citizens – must be included in the decennial census and in the apportionment count. Advocates at the briefing called Trump’s executive order an attempt to amend the US Constitution.

Impact of the Ruling
The ruling underscores historic attempts to erase undercounted communities from the census and ongoing efforts by the Administration to keep non-citizens off the decennial.

Up next is a Supreme Court hearing of a Trump directive that seeks to exclude non-citizens from the congressional apportionment. Earlier, a ruling by federal judges in New York found the executive order unlawful.

These legal challenges undermine the democratic process on which our country was founded, said panelists. A flawed count will affect apportionment – redistricting legislative districts based on newest population counts and redistributing seats to represent those districts in the House of Representatives. In undercounted areas, marginalized communities risk losing fair representation in government.

What’s at stake is the constitutional intent of the count.

How Census2020 played out
Census officials have planned Census2020 for ten years. When COVID19  hit, they outlined a timeline to ensure they would reach an accurate count during the pandemic.

The Bureau spent over $6.3 billion on a campaign to get the count out.  It bolstered partnerships with community organizations and civil rights groups at national and local levels to encourage participation in the census.

“The Administration’s refusal to let Census Bureau experts determine the best schedule for completing the count and reporting results really created enormous chaos and confusion in the field,” said Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference.

Census2020 is one of the largest decennials, but the run up to its final count has been buffeted by natural disasters and an unrelenting pandemic, making it the most difficult of enumerations.

“We have worked so hard to push our communities to participate in the census and tell them how it will benefit their lives,” said Yang, so rushing to transmit apportionment data to the President by December 31, completely undermines those efforts.

Minority communities will take the fall
Experts agreed that rushing the census will shortchange minority communities.

Historically, self-response rates from communities of color nationwide tend to be lower than non-Hispanic white and US self-response rates. Latinos, tribal areas, Blacks and swathes of Asian residents need more targeted outreach – “more door knocking enumeration” – which requires extra time.

Panelists called a Census Bureau statement that it had topped 99% completion rates ‘a myth’. That rate only refers to households on the address list, but do not indicate if all householders were included or completed the census forms. “Do not be fooled,” warned Morial, “if there was fake news, this is it!”

The perils of an undercount include overcrowding in schools and hospitals, and congestion on roads. It will put communities in a tough spot that will be hard to recover from. Hastily tabulated data will harm the nation, but that risk falls disproportionately on communities of color.

“Make no mistake about it. There has never been an accurate count of Latinos in a decennial,” said Arturo Vargas, CEO of NALEO, referring to historical interference that has denied Latino participation in the census, whether it was asking Latino immigrants to boycott the census, or barring their inclusion in it. “The odds are consistently against a census that fully includes all (almost 60 million) Latinos.”

Morial pointed out that “The Black population count was already in jeopardy from the start,” because African American communities have not even reached the national self-response rate of 68%.

In Indian country, that rate is 25% below the national average, said Kevin Allis, Leader of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), arguing that his community is invisible to the rest of the country. In 2010, Indian country suffered an undercount twice the national average.

Allis also pointed out that the federal government has a treaty and trust responsibility owed to tribal nations (covering infrastructure, health and education and economic development), in exchange for millions of acres that tribal nations ceded to the US for settlement. Chronic underfunding has created disparities in Indian country. A census that falls short, will further decimate the funding and representation promised in those treaties, warned Allis.

It’s not over yet
“It would be a mistake for anyone in the public or the media to think that the Census is over,” said Gupta. What is over is the data collection process from a 150 million housing units. In the next phase, the Bureau will process raw data to produce a count that accurately reflects every US community. Data will determine the distribution of real resources in neighborhoods.

It’s a massive and complex undertaking that needs time, says Census Bureau experts (the Gov. Accountability Office and the Commerce Department’s Inspector General).

Rushing the census will force the Bureau to cut corners and compress vital quality checks that could skew data and create errors, advised Gupta. “The ramifications will last decades.”

The data processing phase is crucial to ‘fill in the blanks’  added Vargas. Checks and remediation are needed to ensure that forms are complete, all household members included, and to fix erroneous and duplicate responses. It requires meaningful consultation with stakeholders to deal with disclosure avoidance systems and make sure nobody is left behind.

Flawed data will lead to flawed decisions that harm everyone, warned Allis.

It takes time to integrate quality indicators that measure and translate census data into accurate apportionment counts. If you erase people from the census, the domino effect at play will see federal programs and fair elections start to fall.

Political interference has reduced a six month process to two, and that will undermine the integrity of the count, so we need to “excise politics from the process,” urged Morial.

The Bottom Line
Without an extension, millions of people will be left out of the count. That includes people in rural and tribal lands, people of color, people with low incomes and people experiencing homelessness.

“In a lot of ways this has always been the Trump administration’s goal, from the failed citizenship question, to Trump’s unconstitutional memo to erase undocumented immigrants from the count. The administration has been trying over and over again to dictate who counts in this country,” stated Gupta.

Congress Must Act to Salvage the Census
There isn’t a clear roadmap ahead if the Census Bureau is forced to produce an inaccurate count.

Advocates at the briefing urged Congress to take immediate steps to reset the course of the census and stave off damage that could last the next ten years. They suggested the public put pressure on congressional delegations to free the census of political and partisan interference going forward.

The Leadership Conference has endorsed  a bipartisan bill to save the census, and asked Congress to push back the reporting deadlines by 120 days each – extending the reapportionment deadline from December 31 to April 1, 2021, and the redistricting deadline from April 1 to July 1, 2021.

“Congress has to set a clear path forward” Gupta added, because it is their constitutional responsibility to protect the integrity and accuracy of census data.

“Look. The decennial census sets a standard for data quality that must be preserved,” said Yang. “It should be something the US Census Bureau achieves without interference.”


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photocredit: Photopin

Thomas Saenz Is A Census Optimist

Editor’s Note: Amidst growing concerns over pandemic-related delays in the census deadline, one veteran voting rights activist finds reason to hope and sees potential for gains in representation by underserved groups, especially Latinos.

Thomas Saenz is that rare voting rights advocate who is optimistic about delays created by the COVID 19 pandemic in filling out census forms – and in submitting data for use in redistricting.

Delaying the deadline for data used to redraw voting districts for seats in the U.S. House and state legislatures will negatively affect elections in several states, redistricting reformers like Common Cause argue. They have asked Congress to review a request from the Census Bureau for a four month delay.

Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), sees the delay as a way to ensure a more accurate census count. That’s the key, he argues, to ensuring fairer political representation, whether on school boards, city councils, state legislative and congressional districts – even elections for local dog catcher.

Despite the low self-response rates for Latino areas, Saenz believes there’s a real potential for more Latino representation in the 2021 redistricting across the country.

“The low response rates were expected.  This delay gives not only the Census Bureau but  groups like NALEO, all of us, more time to get people to respond.  And the more time we get, the more complete the count.  Some people just take time to be convinced and often on the ordinary timeline, there’s not enough time to do that,” Saenz says.

“This was never going to be a great Census because of the Trump Administration which is the most divisive ever,” Saenz adds on reflection.  “But again, having more time is good.”

Saenz pins hopes on increases in the census count in Texas, where the gains in Latino immigration over the last decade have been dramatic.  “Even if the state is not investing any money in outreach, it’s projected Texas can get up to three new Congressional seats, and at least one or two of those should be Latinos.” He predicts push back from the state legislature, which conducts redistricting, unless the Democrats take the state house in the upcoming elections, Then, he says, it’s a different ball game.

California, on the other hand, may lose a seat but Saenz says it won’t be a Latino one.  “I expect to see a current seat that isn’t Latino becoming Latino.” And he expects to see a gain in Arizona and possibly one in Illinois, given the increase in both states’ Latino population.  “Illinois has one Latino majority seat and I expect it to become two, if the population has increased there as I expect it has. This might be the time”

Redistricting usually starts with the delivery of “apportionment counts” to the President on or before Jan 1  — the total population count of each state and the number of congressional seats to which each state is entitled based on that count.  The total number of seats is fixed at 435, but the population of each state determines whether they win or lose districts every 10 years.  Redrawing legislative districts based on census data usually begins on April 1, at the latest.

Because the whole Census operation has been delayed by the pandemic, the Census Bureau has asked Congress to extend the deadline for delivering data about Congress to April 30, 2021, and to the states to July 31, 2020.

Saenz sees potential pluses in delaying reapportionment of the House of Representatives from the end of December to April. It may actually mean a new President will be in office who won’t try to discount immigrants in the redistricting count, Saenz says.

Last July the Trump Administration issued an executive order to have departments collect “citizenship data” for the Census Bureau. It is a move widely seen as building the case for states to restrict redistricting counts to citizens only – rather than immigrants. The executive order came on the heels of the  Supreme Court’s ruling prohibiting the addition of a question about citizenship in the Census questionnaire.

Delaying state data will also allow a new president to “stop any mischief” regarding the use of citizenship data to exclude non citizens from redrawing legislative districts.  “A new administration can come in in a deliberate manner and stop that from going on… If more time is needed to gather and deliver the data,  they should not waste time on the executive order anyway. They must concentrate resources on tabulating the questionnaires, and not in having departments turn over citizenship data to the Census Bureau.”

One argument against postponing the data is that redistricting will be a rushed process. Here again, Saenz takes a pragmatic view.  “Texas is always a rushed process because the legislature is only in session for two months – March and April – and they have an early filing deadline for candidates in 2022.  In the worst case, they may have to change the deadline.  For us, if there is a legal challenge to their redistricting, it will be a burden, but it’s okay.”

In California, it’s not the legislature but a commission of appointees that oversees redistricting. Saenz says the commission can do some of its work before the data is released, starting with testimony from communities about their interests in being represented,  “They won’t know the numbers or be able to promote maps, but they can say: ‘We don’t want to split this area.’”

Redistricting advocates worry about Virginia and New Jersey which hold legislative e elections in 2021.  Saenz says, “Maybe they will have an election without new lines.  Is that a disaster? In my mind it’s not.”

For Saenz,  the significant increase in the Latino population over the last decade will create real opportunities for more political representation in the decade ahead.  More time  gives him reason to hope for a more accurate count.

EMS contributing editor Pilar Marrero is an author and veteran reporter for La Opinion.

Congress Asked to “Save” Census 2020

“A nightmare” is how Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), defines what the coronavirus pandemic has meant to the carefully planned efforts to make the nation’s Latino community count in the 2020 Census.

“We are moving forward with a new strategy and message, but deep down we know that there is no way to get to a full count without door-to-door visits” he said. “And at this point, we don’t know if the Census Bureau will be able to be on the street doing that follow-up work as planned in June (the original date would have been mid-May). I think by the end of this month the writing will be on the wall.”

NALEO and other groups continue to work to “turn the boat around” — to make the transition from hundreds of in-person events and follow-ups to paid and earned media to reach the so-called “hard-to-count” Latino community vulnerable to undercounts. But the confidence that the result will be reliable is fading with each passing day.

Arturo Vargas, Executive Director, NALEO

“Postponing the census until next year is an option that should be on the table,” Vargas added. “There is no reason to risk the health of the enumerators or the public.”  Congress will have to act because the statute sets two dates for delivering this data to Congress and the states. Brazil has already postponed its census.

Part of the nightmare for Vargas and other Latino activists is that so far the response from this population has been, on average, too low. While Latino communities tend to be undercounted in every census, this year the situation was already complicated. And then, the coronavirus hit.

The Trump administration’s handling of the last few years of preparation for the 10-year count mightily complicated things, including the decision to include a citizenship question that was finally rejected by the Supreme Court. The damage remains, however, as surveys continue to record that many Latinos still believe they will have to answer a citizenship question in the census.

Experts say this inhibits community members’ participation because they fear their data would be mishandled or used for immigration enforcement or other purposes.

Nationally, 48.6% of households already had answered the basic nine-question form by April 14, but the numbers were much lower, on average, in areas with high Latino populations, said Dorian Caal, a NALEO researcher, and data analyst.

“If we look at counties with more than 50% Latino population nationwide, the average response is only 23.1%,” he said. “For counties with 20% or more Latinos, the response is 29.8%. The truth is that the fewer Latinos in an area, the higher the response. In other words, the Latino population’s participation is still far below average.”

Leaders expect Latino participation to improve after more than 60 million paper questionnaires are sent in mid-April to people who have not responded online. Research indicates that the paper response is the one most favored by Latinos.

Some small cities with high Latino populations, particularly those with nearby rural areas populated by many farmworkers and migrants, have desperately low census response numbers. Two examples in Fresno County: The city of Huron has a 6.3% response and the city of San Joaquin 4.6%.

In California, whose response exceeds the national average, 49.2% of the population has filled out the census compared to the nation’s 48.6%. California has spent more than $180 million promoting the census to secure its piece of the pie. States like Texas, which spent no money on outreach, have seen a lower return — 44.2% so far.

The situation in tribal areas is even dimmer because of the difficulties of carrying out the work door-to-door at a time when many tribal nations are restricting access to their lands and have a negligible online response level.

Also having a negative effect is the suspension of a program called “update and leave” that reconfirms the addresses of highly mobile or remote households and where workers leave census packets in person, said Caal.

Although only 5% of households were on these “update and leave” lists, some states have higher percentages of such addresses. This is the case in New Mexico (37.7%) and Alaska (32.4%).

The fair distribution of more than $1.5 billion in federal spending and political representation in the nation over the next 10 years depends on an accurate census.

But the Census Bureau had no plans for carrying out a census during a pandemic. Just three days after this interview with Vargas, the unthinkable happened: Census Bureau leaders and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross asked Congress for a four-month delay in the statutory deadlines for delivering population data to the executive and legislative branches.

The next day, President Trump said that perhaps this delay was “not enough” and that perhaps “we don’t have to ask Congress because it is an act of God.”

For NALEO, however, while the delay is logical, it represents a serious risk to the quality of the resulting data. There is a danger that the final result will be “incomplete and inadequate,” according to a statement from the organization.

Vargas called on Congress to intensify its oversight role of the face-to-face follow-up phase of the census to maintain the process’s integrity.

“Congress has the authority and obligation to work with the Bureau to take the necessary steps to ensure an accurate census of all U.S. residents,” he said.

The request by census leaders and the Department of Commerce would extend data collection until October 31, 2020, with the numbers delivered to the president and Congress by April 30 and July 31, 2021, respectively. President Trump´s current term in office ends January 20, 2021.

But according to the experts, time is not on the side of the census. The data will become more and more imprecise the further the fieldwork moves away from the April 1 date, which is when the “picture” of the country is supposed to be taken. All answers must be related by law to who was residing at home, at school, or in the country on that day, and not after.

“The Constitution places the responsibility for the census in the hands of Congress,” according to a NALEO statement on April 14.  “In light of that obligation, it is time for Congress to step up to the plate and intensely monitor the 2020 Census if we are going to save it.“

Pilar Marrero is a contributor for Ethnic Media Services.


Photo by Louis Velazquez on Unsplash