Census pledges outreach in hard-to-reach communities for 2020 count

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Officials will work with immigrant advocates, churches and school districts

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) ⁠— Government officials and community leaders on Thursday pledged to ensure that immigrants and other hard-to-reach groups are included in the 2020 census.

The El Paso Area Census Office (ACO) kicked off its promotion campaign of next April’s nationwide count at Armijo Park in the heart of Segundo Barrio, one of the oldest Latino neighborhoods in the city.

Marketing efforts for the Census will include a heavy social media presence and community awareness of the option to fill out the survey online, said Claudia Ordaz, El Paso City Council member and co-chair of the Paso del Norte Complete Count Committee.

“This is the first time ever we have the online option. … It is a daunting application, but it should only take 10 minutes and should be easier for people with mobile devices,” Ordaz said. The committee has a marketing fund of $325,000 to explain to residents that an accurate count will ensure their fair share of federal funds for schools, roads, health care and other social services, she said.

Census officials gathered Thursday at El Paso’s Armijo Park to kick off the promotion campaign for the 2020 count. (Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

However, in El Paso and other border communities with large foreign-born populations (25.2 percent as of 2016), some immigrants tend to avoid any interaction with the government, say activists like Carlos Marentes, of the Border Agricultural Workers Center in south El Paso.

“They are reluctant to receive someone from the U.S. Census (in their homes) because they don’t really understand the implications of being counted,” Marentes said. “Also, in many families, maybe the head of the household is a legal resident who has papers, but other family members don’t, so they are afraid of how that information will be used.”

The latter, he said, is of particular concern to these mixed-status families because of the Trump administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws. “So when you tell somebody about the Census, they don’t know if it’s independent from Trump … for them, all these institutions are part of the government.”

Ordaz said Census answers are confidential and misuse or unauthorized sharing of that information is a federal offense. She added that the Census will be partnering with social service groups, churches, school districts and neighborhood associations to ease any fears and promote participation.

“We want you to talk to your kids, your grandparents, your cousins, your coworkers. Make sure everybody counts,” she said.

Robert Heyman, policy director for the Border Network for Human Rights, said the group will promote the Census, but he urged the federal agency to directly reach out to migrants.

“Go to schools, stores, swap meets, go to parks, figure out where you can reach them on social media,” Heyman said. “Take advantage of what structures in our community are already interacting and serving these people, and you use those to talk to them. … It takes a little more effort, but it works and we need to get everybody counted.”

In addition to members of the immigrant community, another group that’s often undercounted by the Census includes farm workers. Marentes said the El Paso area has between 5,000 and 12,000 agricultural workers who often travel from county to county and state to state. He said his organization has been approached in the past by the Census and that he’s willing to help again.

Ordaz said the Census officials will be announcing some hiring events in weeks to come.

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