STAND UP and BE COUNTED: Communities prepare for the largest, most expensive, and most controversial Census in U.S. history.

AuthorJohnson, Sharon

Lety Valencia, a community organizer with Faith in the Valley, a nonprofit organization of 120 congregations in five counties in Northern California--all part of what is known as the Central Valley--sees the situation as critical.

"Although the Central Valley is the leading agricultural region and contributes billions to the U.S. economy, many people don't earn enough to support their families," she says in an interview. "In addition to inadequate schools, housing, and health care, residents endure some of the worst air pollution in the country."

That's why Faith in the Valley has made participation in the upcoming 2020 Census a top priority. Census data is used to determine how some $880 billion a year in federal funding is distributed to the states for safety-net programs and infrastructure projects.

If the people of the Central Valley are not fully counted, she explains, it could lose out on millions of dollars in funding for Head Start, Medicaid, and other safety-net programs. "The Valley's political influence would also decrease because population data gathered by the Census is used to define the boundaries of Congressional and state legislative districts."

In the Central Valley, as in many places throughout the United States, the risk of an undercount is great. There are many non-English speakers, low-income households, and immigrants--as well as renters and rural residents who did not receive or return forms in the past.

The Trump Administration's decision to add a citizenship question, which the U.S. Supreme Court is now reviewing after lower courts declared it impermissible, has intensified the reluctance of immigrants and foreign-born residents to participate. Many fear that identifying themselves as undocumented will affect their ability to remain in the United States. The Census Bureau itself has estimated that including the question could lead to 6.5 million people declining to participate.

When oral arguments were heard on the issue in late April, the court s conservative majority seemed to express support for the question. A final decision is expected by the end of June. But, Valencia warns, "Even if the Supreme Activist Dolores Huerta speaks at an April 2019 kickoff event for the 2020 Census Call to Action, a California initiative to make sure that everyone is counted.

Court decides to omit the citizenship question, it is going to be an uphill battle to get people to return the forms."

Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from publishing or otherwise disclosing private information, including immigration status, regarding any individual. Violators face federal prison sentences of up to five years and/or fines up to $250,000. But many immigrants still see it as a risk they would rather not take.

And so Faith in the Valley and other groups are doing what they can to overcome this climate of fear and get people to participate.

"Just as our predecessors showed up in the streets and the halls of power to change laws and institute policies to ensure racial and economic justice," Valencia says, "current residents of the Central Valley must come out of the shadows and be counted."

Like other groups all over the country, Faith in the Valley is taking steps to address the fears of immigrants over completing...

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