Editorial: Local Efforts Key to Accurate Census

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Read the full story below or on the VC Star website

Amid growing concerns about how the Trump administration’s anti-immigration fervor will affect the accuracy of the 2020 Census, an important meeting was held last week in Camarillo.

The once-in-a-decade effort aims to count every person living in the United States, including undocumented adults and children. But across the nation, many advocates are worried that immigrants and others won’t trust the government with their personal information, especially if the administration is successful in putting a citizenship question on census forms.

Ultimately, elected officials, local religious leaders and social service agencies will be the key to convincing the public “that it’s both safe and important to their families and the well-being of their communities to participate in the census,” Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House Subcommittee on Census and Population, told npr.org last week.

That’s one reason why we were encouraged to see 70 local leaders attend the panel discussion meeting last week at Ventura County Community Foundation headquarters. They talked about gaining trust in hard-to-count areas through personal contact, cultural familiarity and issue-focused discussions, among other things.

The Constitution offers a simple directive for the census — “counting the whole number of persons in each State.” Over the decades, that has included slaves, children too young to vote and, yes, undocumented immigrants.

The government uses the census data to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars annually for health care, education and other community services. In 2010, it amounted to more than $1,200 per person, so for every 100 people the census does not count, a city could be shorted $120,000 a year.

The number of U.S. House seats each state gets also is based on the census. If immigrants and others are greatly undercounted, some states may lose seats, including at least one in California, some advocates say.

In the 2010 census, California represented 12 percent of the U.S. population but nearly 22 percent of those living in hard-to-count tracts. Areas of Ventura County most likely to be undercounted include parts of south and central Oxnard, downtown and east Santa Paula, Fillmore and tracts northeast of Ventura along Highway 33, The Star reported last week. They are areas with high proportions of foreign-born residents, poverty, limited English proficiency, renters and children under age 5.

Census form answers are confidential by law, but it’s reasonable to assume — especially in the current environment — that many of the undocumented will fear their information will be shared with immigration agents.

Making matters worse are plans by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who decides what the census will ask, to add a question about citizenship status for the first time since 1950. Ross says it will help identify voting-rights violations and racial discrimination, but six former Census Bureau directors — Republicans and Democrats alike — sent a letter to Ross saying it “would put the accuracy of the enumeration and success of the census in all communities at grave risk.”

We agree and hope legal challenges against the question are successful. States, cities and other groups have filed a total of six lawsuits against the Census Bureau to remove the question.

In fact, Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin told npr.org last week that the controversy over the question is complicating census preparations. “We need to get a complete and accurate census,” he said, “and we will do everything we can to ensure that.”

We hope he is true to his word, but we’re glad that our state and local officials already are working on Plan B.

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