Encouraging Immigrant Participation in the 2020 Census


WASHINGTON With the census occurring only once every 10 years, advocacy and service organizations have a small window to encourage their community’s participation.


“It’s a lot of work, but it’s work that must be done in order to make sure our communities are fully represented politically, and that the resources that are due to them do come.” said Sulma Arias, director of immigration at the advocacy organization, Community Change. Arias became more involved with the census when it appeared as though it may threaten immigrants in the United States.


The Trump administration fought to include a mandatory citizenship question on the 2020 census. Community Change and other immigration-related organizations stepped in to prevent this from happening. Immigration advocates protested, created petitions, and filed lawsuits against the inclusion of a citizenship component. 


An exterior shot of the Supreme Court of the United States on April 13, 2020, in Washington, DC.


In June of 2019, the Supreme Court blocked the administration’s attempt to include the citizenship question in the census. Chief Justice John Roberts said the government failed to explain why the question was essential to the usage of census data. 


Still, misinformation surrounds the census especially when it comes to immigrant participation. Eric Seymour at the Esperanza Center in Baltimore said many immigrants are hesitant to participate. “Most people if you were to say, ‘Fill this out with everyone in your household’s information and send it back to the federal government,’ there’s very little incentive to do that.” said Seymour “Especially when the risk seems so great.”


Many undocumented immigrants worry these risks could include deportation or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, obtaining their residential information. The U.S. Census Bureau dedicated a section on its website to dispel any confusion or rumors concerning privacy, and immigration advocates are working to lift up this message.



“There needed to be a massive, a massive, know your rights education component to the census, and the importance of the community resources and also the political representation that come out of the census.” said Arias. Immigration advocates continue to emphasize the long-term effect the census has on funding decisions for communities across the country.


“This data will determine how much funding your state gets, not just in terms of programs that you may not be eligible for, but in terms of programs that benefit the school down your street, the hospitals in your neighborhood, the streets in your neighborhood.” said Seymour.



The 2020 census is currently open. Immigration advocates say everyone who lives in the United States — including non-citizens — should be counted. The census is available online at 2020census.gov


“There’s a pattern of leaving us out, and if we don’t bind together at this moment, make ourselves count. Whether it’s the census or at the polls, in any way that we can, lift our voices at this moment, we’re going to lose.” said Arias. “Our children are going to lose, our grandchildren are going to lose.”

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