One would think the President of the United States would have wanted to ensure that all residents be counted, but that was not the case with Donald Trump.
The Trump administration had pushed to have the census count end September 30th and civil rights advocates pushed back and the deadline was extended to October 31, but that date was rolled back yet again and ended the count on October 15th. A Supreme Court ruling allowed the Department of Commerce to end the count claiming they wouldn’t be able to get the data to the President by the December 31 deadline mandated by law.
Another goal of Trump’s, which may be far more difficult for him to achieve — is to estimate the number of undocumented residents who may have been counted in this census and eliminate those numbers from the count. Although the citizenship or immigration status question was not allowed on the census forms nor was citizenship a requirement to participate in the census, Trump wants to decrease the count in areas with large immigrant populations.
The bouncing census deadlines made it difficult to communicate with the public and while the Census Bureau did their best to get the word out, not everyone received the message in time. Census workers visited the homes of those who had not returned their forms, they did not reach everyone.
Not Everyone Was Counted
One woman who described herself as the head of household for the Almaraz family told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that she thought she had more time to fill out her census form. She was not aware that the deadline was rolled back to the 15th, so she missed the deadline.
“I have a large family of 8 – my son’s girlfriend had moved in and I was unsure of her age, so I waited to finish filling out the form,” she said. “I wouldn’t have waited if I had known. I didn’t hear anywhere that it was ending on the 15th and no one came to my home” she said. “Up until now, I always participated in the census because as a retired nurse, I know how important it is, but I thought I had until the 31st and I know census workers didn’t get to every uncounted door. This is such a confusing, horrible year,” Almaraz said.
Census taking in California was adversely impacted by COVID-19, the concern for social distancing and residents who were displaced because of wildfires.
Census data is used to allocate about $800 billion in federal funding over the next 10 years. Those funds may be used for social services, developing infrastructure, public schools, and federally funded hospitals. Even a slight undercount can mean a loss of millions of dollars.
Census data collection efforts were hampered by the COVID pandemic, which limited door-to-door enumeration and outreach efforts. Portions of the South also faced hurricanes and storms, while the West Coast battled wildfires.
John C. Yang, President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, pointed out in a previous news briefing for ethnic media services, the Constitution clearly states that reapportionment is based on all people living in the United States and that President Trump’s memo issued in July that seeks to exclude undocumented immigrants from being counted from apportionment, contradicts hundreds of years of legislative history and U.S. policy.
Civil rights advocates believe Trump has attempted to diminish political representation in states like California with large ethnic populations.
Yee and others point out, the census count was to count populations not citizenship.
“This is unconstitutional,” said Yee, “It is clear that groups will litigate this, we already have litigation pending. Each state should be represented in total population.” he said.
Accurate census data that includes all of those living in the United States is crucial in determining needed services to states and their districts. Census data is critical for accurate representation.
Still, civil rights advocates are keeping positive, “We forced the Census Bureau to extend it two weeks (from Sept.30) beyond what they wanted, we are missing out on just two weeks”, Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), said. “Now the big question is how accurate and complete that count is going to be, and that´s an unknown right now.” said Vargas.
Civil rights attorneys and organizations are prepared to litigate, however, how they go forward may be determined by the November election. The future of the data will be in the hands of a new Congress and a new President, said Vargas.
A new Congress is sworn in by January 3rd, 17 days before the new presidential term begins. “If there is a change in the Senate and the House and the Presidency all go to the same party, I think the strategy changes completely.” said Vargas “The House can reject the apportionment numbers after the President sends them to Capitol Hill,” Vargas added.
Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said that after the enumeration is finished, the Bureau “will use administrative records and check the quality of the data, which takes a serious amount of time…how much time is what´s at stake”.
Meanwhile the Census Bureau has claimed that they have collected 99.9 percent of households which is doubted by civil rights organizations on the ground. “It´s not enough to complete an enumeration. It´s also important to count everyone in doing so,” said John Thompson, a former Census Bureau director who was on the task force.
A statement recently released by a coalition of Native American organizations said that the “completion rates provided by the Bureau merely refer to the percentage of households not responding to the Census that they are no longer trying to contact…by saying they have completed, the agency means they have stopped trying to contact them”.
The Census population count will be used to determine the number of seats each state and county will receive in Congress — and will determine how to redraw the boundaries for congressional districts in 2021.