Once again, President Donald Trump is using the U.S. Census, an institution that is at the very core of our democracy and explicitly supposed to represent all of us, as a weapon to score cheap political points and distract from his failed leadership by harming immigrants.
We at CASA, an immigration rights organization, stood up to the Trump administration once already as plaintiffs in a lawsuit to prevent the administration from adding a citizenship question to the census. We are also fighting this latest in a series of attacks on our immigrant communities in court.
This action isn’t only cruel, it’s blatantly unconstitutional. The 14th Amendment, passed in the wake of the Civil War to ensure that the formerly enslaved had citizenship and equal protection under the law, explicitly charges the census with “counting the whole number of persons in each state.”
The post-Civil War amendments are the bedrock upon which many of our hardest-fought freedoms lie, and Trump’s attack on the 14th Amendment not only clearly violates the letter of the law. It is antithetical to its spirit of fundamental fairness and equality.
CASA represents primarily low-income immigrants, a growing but often overlooked and underresourced demographic in Pennsylvania. Like many other marginalized communities — including rural households, communities of color, and people experiencing homelessness — immigrants are at greater risk of not being counted in the census. At CASA, we understand exactly what is at stake if the count isn’t accurate.
Billions of dollars are apportioned to the states based on the census count. Pennsylvania receives over $39 billion in annual funding from the 55 largest federal programs that rely on census data to calculate funding, according to George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy. This money funds things like health care, infrastructure, support for small businesses, and more.
Federal dollars account for roughly one-third of Pennsylvania’s annual budget. If there is an undercount, those formulas will be locked in for 10 years, seriously harming the state’s fiscal outlook at a time when COVID-19 has decimated a budget that has historically had structural deficits, and the federal government is doing nothing to help state and local governments.
We also understand the challenges of getting a full and accurate count, even when it isn’t being conducted during a pandemic by a president who has tried to politicize and undermine the process at every turn.
Historically, the most marginalized among us have been the least likely to respond to the census. That’s why we joined the Keystone Counts coalition, a statewide group of community organizations working diligently to make sure every Pennsylvanian is counted.
Members of the Keystone Counts coalition began our census outreach in 2019, doing extensive research to find the best ways to encourage people to complete the census, and began in-person outreach last fall. In March, COVID-19 forced us to adapt since we couldn’t be out knocking on doors anymore, so we started reaching out to folks via text, phone calls, and social media. No matter what happens, we will not abandon this important work.
There are plenty of practical reasons to support a full and accurate count in the 2020 Census, but there are also powerful symbolic reasons to support it for the communities we serve. Our membership is predominantly Latinx, which is currently the fastest-growing demographic group in central Pennsylvania. Being counted is the first step to building power and being represented by leaders who look like us and share our lived experience.
It is no surprise by now that this administration would do anything it can to deny the existence of millions of hardworking immigrants in this country, and the strength of regions that have welcomed them as neighbors, but we will never stop fighting to ensure that all of us count.
Every. Single. One of us.
María Gutiérrez is a union labor and public relations leader from Puerto Rico, where she worked for more than 20 years leading efforts to improve working and living conditions for Puerto Rican workers. She is CASA’s membership field director for Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, overseeing a U.S. Census outreach program to educate hard-to-count Latinx and immigrant communities about the importance of the census. She writes from York.