By Alika Medina & Mariah Perry / NM News Port
On March 12th, the U.S Census Bureau sent out its first invitations to file. In New Mexico, advocates for the immigrant community face a particular challenge in trying to allay concerns and getting residents to file their census forms.
According to Isaac Navarro, the communications director for an Albuquerque nonprofit advocacy group called Center for Civic Policy, the Trump administration and its reelection bid have sown distrust among the immigrant population due to the President’s anti-immigrant policies.
As a result, advocates in local immigrant communities fear a significant undercount in this year’s Census effort, which would weaken federal funding and political representation in New Mexico.
Participating in the census is required by law, even for those who have recently completed another survey from the Census Bureau. A complete and accurate count is critical for communities, as the results of the 2020 Census will be directly considered in decisions regarding things like federal funding and congressional representation.
Despite this, many immigrants have been weary of participating in the census count due largely to President Trump’s history of discriminatory and threatening remarks toward immigrant communities, particularly the very same Mexican communities to which New Mexico is home.
“The reality is, currently, the federal government has made it clear that they don’t want people of color and immigrants to be part of the 2020 census,” said Navarro, whose work with CCP largely deals with advocating on behalf of disenfranchised New Mexican communities.
Navarro’s view is echoed by many advocates for the immigrant community.
“Throughout his administration, Trump has vowed to curb both legal and illegal immigration to the United States,” writes J.D. Long-García, senior editor at America, in The Atlantic, July 2019.. “From extending the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border to efforts to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, to making it more difficult for green card holders to retain their status, the Trump administration has arguably made reducing the number of immigrants in the United States the core of its agenda.”
In one of his earliest election speeches in 2015, Trump stunned many Americans by accusing immigrants from Mexico of bringing drugs and crime and called them rapists. His reelection rallies in 2020 have resorted to similar themes.
While data on immigrant populations and crime rates is incomplete, a range of studies show there is no significant evidence to support the claim that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans
“What we have seen from the Trump administration is a very clear attempt to silence people,” Navarro said.
Navarro noted that an undercount in these areas would be harmful to immigrant communities when the redistricting process starts around 2021, when political districts are redrawn for representation purposes.
“There is real fear, there is real concern,” Navarro said, “but at the same time many of the organizations we work with are making sure that people overcome that fear or at least understand that their participation is much more important than the fear that the government is trying to create within their communities.”
Navarro’s Center for Civic Policy is working with a network of immigrant rights groups to get an accurate count on the census.
“Our work as community organizations is so important at this time around for the 2020 census and that is because research has shown that community groups that work directly with vulnerable communities are seen as trusted messengers.” Navarro said.
Collaborators with the Center for Civic Policy include fellow advocacy groups like The New Mexico Dream Team, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, the New Mexico Asian Family Center, and Somos un Pueblo Unido.
“The hardest-to-count communities are poor communities, renters, families with children under five, immigrants and Native Americans.,” said Somos un Pueblo Unido member Maria Lara.
Because these communities are especially prominent in New Mexico, the state is regularly one of the most undercounted in the country.
Lara said the effort to instill greater trust of the census has been hampered by the Trump Administration’s attempt to put a citizenship question on the census form.
While the current census does not include a question inquiring about citizenship, the “citizenship question” was proposed, challenged and litigated on a national stage from early 2017 until late 2018. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the measure, citing a study commissioned by the Census Bureau that found the citizenship question would be a “major barrier” to the country’s full participation in the 2020 census count.
Navarro said the citizenship question was proposed to cause fear and to prevent immigrants from participating, which may have had that effect even though the actual question is not present on the 2020 Census.
Marcela Diaz, director of Somos un Pueblo Unido noted the irony of the situation, saying that, “Trump has created distrust within him and the immigrant community yet he still wants the community to vote for him in the election.”
“The federal government has made it clear that they don’t want people of color and immigrants to be part of the 2020 Census” — Isaac Navarro, Center for Civic Policy
Diaz said if people want immigrant communities to vote in the election, then they should encourage them to participate in the census, too.
“Everyone should be counted and everyone should receive the money for their communities,” Diaz said.
“At Somos un Pueblo Unido, our goal is to educate the immigrant communities on everything they are being left out on,” Diaz said, “This creates anger within the immigrant communities which we turn into motivation to teach them how to get what their communities deserve to have.”
Mariah Perry and Alika Medina are reporters for New Mexico News Port. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @MariahP93714334 and @Medina_Alika.