The event was held at Sara J. González Memorial Park, the state of Georgia’s first park named after a Hispanic resident. It was hosted by Atlanta Counts, a census participation initiative that encourages Hard-To-Count communities to participate in the upcoming decennial census. The key speaker was Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms and guest speakers KapG and rapper Scrapp Deleon. All of the speeches and announcements were spoken in English and in Spanish.
There were activities for the children: a playground, games, and face painting. Fulton County Libraries brought Spanish language kid and young adult books to promote child literacy as well. There was also free food: popcorn, cotton candy, and a Mexican food truck. The activities for adults were mainly informational tables for community services. There were even Atlanta police who deal specifically with migrants, offering information on how they can pursue fair legal action against harassment and discrimination regardless of residency status.
The Atlanta Counts census table was the focal point. Their volunteers greeted every person with a bilingual informational pamphlet. The goal of the block party was to advertise the census in a community environment where the committee could answer any concerns immediately—if there were any. For those who are looking for further information view the Atlanta Counts website and continue reading to see how your participation in the upcoming 2020 census can impact you and your community.
A Rundown: The History of the U.S. Decennial Census
When the U.S. decennial census was founded in 1790, James Madison insisted that a tally of everyone in the United States was to be done every ten years. It was added into the Constitution as law, and since then the federal government has counted each person living in the nation for things such as congressional redistricting and federal fund allotment. The 24th U.S. census will be sent out April 1st, 2020 and will count every person living in the U.S. and its territories once, recording name, age, race, place of residence, and relationship to those within a household. It will be completed at home—by mail, by phone, and for the first time, online.
Give Me Your Tired and Poor (But Not Really)
It’s required by law for everyone in the U.S., residency notwithstanding, to participate in the decennial U.S. census. But there are certain populations who are more difficult to count. “Hard-To-Count populations (HTC’s),” says the National Conference of State Legislatures “, are groups that are historically less likely to respond to the census right away.” Currently, migrants are one of the Census Bureau’s largest concerns because they are specifically being discouraged to participate.
“You have a federal surveying process being done by a federal government that’s been based on one of the deepest levels of xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment in the history of our country. Even without the citizenship question, this was always going to be complex,” says Betsey Plus, the vice president of the New York Immigration Coalition. She expressed her frustration at the recent proposal of a census citizenship question, and how despite its rejection from the Supreme Court there is still fear amongst U.S. migrant communities that they could face discrimination for their residency status.
The National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations Fall Meeting held on November 2nd, 2017, reported their research on the confidentiality concerns that migrant communities had about the 2020 census and how that could possibly affect their response rates.
During the interviews, respondents were visibly nervous. They gave incomplete and incorrect information as they felt as if it would be used against them. Though it is illegal for the government to share census results, by way of the 72-Year-Rule, migrant concerns have precedents. Such as in World War I, Japanese Americans were rounded up for internment camps, in part, due to federal access to the census.
One interviewer from the National Advisory Committee mentioned that during their time dispensing the census, they were sent to a neighborhood of mobile homes with all Hispanic occupants. They placed census information at the door of one the households and when she came back to check to see if it was received, the entire family was vacating the place, scared of being deported.
Why should I care about the upcoming census?
Funding for almost every state’s federal assistance program is dependent on the accurate measurement of a community’s population and demographics. If you come from a community of Hard-To-Count people (mainly undocumented immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers and children), it is especially important you participate. If your area needs better roads, education materials, better housing, or those in the community need any type of financial assistance, it is difficult for the state government to grant enough money to a community that is not accurately accounted for.
For instance, Georgia was budgeted over 13 billion dollars in 2015 for 16 large federal assistance programs. Medicaid was granted the most funds while the Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) received the least funds. Still, each program received millions, if not billions of dollars. Understand, Georgia will get the same amount of money regardless. Not participating in the census does not mean a state is given any less money from the federal government; however, where those billions of dollars end up is directly related to whether everyone participates in the 2020 census to the best of their ability.
It’s a Catch 22
Not partaking in the census takes necessary resources away from the community but filling it out threatens serious persecution. There is no easy answer. Tumblr poster, Coffee-Khaleesi, shared a simple, but an astute observation from her supervisor at a battered women’s shelter that can hopefully impart empathy on those who do not yet have residency:
“You can always assume one thing…and that is always that [people] are doing their best. Always assume everyone is doing their best…And if their best just isn’t that great, or their best doesn’t look like your best, you have to be okay with that.”