HYATTSVILLE – Jonathan Hernandez, 22, walked inside a Langley Park apartment building on Jan. 23 with a group of canvassers, ready to talk to local residents about the 2020 U.S. Census.
The downtown Silver Spring resident could recall being a young child in 2010 and seeing his mother struggling to look at the questionnaire pages. She looked visibly unsure about filling it out. That moment caused Hernandez to get informed on the topic and involved.
“She got intimidated by it,” Hernandez said. “But ever since then, I’ve told my mom ‘you have to fill this out or else you are not going to be represented.’ And that is the same message I was relying upon out at this day and age. To make sure we have enough people doing the census to make sure they are represented.”
Immigrant advocacy group CASA began its push to connect the area’s local immigrant communities as part of its Census 2020 outreach campaign launch event on Jan. 23 as canvassers start walking door-to-door to talk to residents to fill out the survey.
The CASA outreach program is part of a three-state effort in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania to assure that everyone gets counted by the census once the form is set out in April. Canvassers will go to people’s homes to have them sign the census pledge while CASA will reach out weeks before to give a reminder that the census will be sent to their homes shortly.
As part of their campaign, officials introduced Lucas, an animated character, as the campaign’s spokesperson. Lucas represents a 13-year-old Latino boy that will be used in TV, radio, and digital ads as he persuades others to participate in the census.
The overall message to assure the immigrant community that providing information for the census is okay, even if you are undocumented. Officials want to remind residents that their participation in the census will matter in terms of the number of federal dollars each region of the country receives, as well as how many representatives each state will have in federal offices.
“We have all seen those victories in the city council level,” former California Congressman Luis Gutierrez said. “That is power for our communities…Answering the census is one part of unraveling the puzzle to the power we need to have more power in the Congress in the United States.”
President Donald Trump attempted to have a citizenship question added on to the U.S. Census throughout 2019 but was ultimately told by the Supreme Court in July that it could not be included.
However, the fact that the immigrant question was even proposed arguably instilled fear within the community that their information in the census will be used for deportations.
The state of Maryland funds CASA’s efforts, Torres said, making it more critical to assure as many people are counted when the census starts on April 1.
CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres called the use of the citizenship question “strategic” to dissuade the country’s immigrant population, mostly of Latinos, of not participating.
“I want to tell our community, ‘do not be afraid,’” Torres said. “The laws are very clear and very strong. We are not going to allow the federal government, the Trump administration, to do what they were planning to do.”
Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro said she has felt more anxiety in recent years compared when she first came to the United States in 1983. She called the current rhetoric about the country’s immigrant communities by certain politicians as using their plight for “political expediency” and hard to put aside.
“We are all concerned about the census and making sure that communities that are not traditionally counted (are) counted,” Navarro said. “We know that the Latino community has grown exponentially, but there is a lot of fear of sharing a lot of information, and they may not participate.”
Vice Chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board Natali Fani-González brought a new perspective to the importance of the census and how much damage the citizenship question proposal almost caused.
The first Latina and millennial to work in the planning board stated that every planner in the nation “raised their hand to say no” to the proposal as it would create problems in creating road and neighborhood improvements harder to navigate if the right amount of people are not counted in a particular area.
“Every time we have a master plan, it says how much we are paying for housing, for parks, schools, are we are planning new roads or new trains that will go between Prince George’s and Montgomery,” Fani-González said. “We need to know how many people live in those places because if we do not know, we cannot plan.”
Montgomery County is currently looking for volunteers to become 2020 Census Ambassadors as part of the Office of Community Partnerships. Ambassadors will be receiving census training through the partnership office and the U.S. Census Bureau. County volunteers will also be canvassing as well as helping host information tables, distribute promotional materials, and engaging with residents in several public areas like movie theaters and farmers markets.
“We want to send a clear message to (all) communities that we need them to participate,” Navarro said. “It helps us gain more resources as well as improve our representation.”