2020 census citizenship debate erodes trust in Santa Clara County

President Donald Trump’s exhausted attempts at including the citizenship question on the 2020 census proved unsuccessful, putting to rest a matter that some officials worried would affect local turnout.

On Thursday, the president announced that he’s backing down on his efforts of including the question after admitting that an ongoing, raging legal battle would interfere with printing materials on time, citing instead that he would be seeking the information from existing federal records.

Despite the president throwing in the towel, little has been done to temper anxiety from local leaders who say that the president has instilled mistrust among immigrant communities that will potentially affect participation.

“The sentiment is one in which immigrants don’t feel welcomed at all in this country,” said Zelica Rodriguez-Deams, associate director of local community organization SOMOS Mayfair. “The citizenship question was another attack and weapon that was going to be used against immigrant communities.”

According to Rodriguez-Deams, the president’s administration has caused harm to immigrants. The threat of ICE raids, family separations at the border and the risk of a citizenship question on the census have equally contributed to the widespread fear that is felt among the community, she said.

“The reality is that what we thought was impossible has become possible in this administration,” added Rodriguez-Deams who said that the overarching sentiment is around fear and people not wanting to participate. “There’s a lot of worry — we’re having to recognize that before even having a conversation on the citizenship question. The fact that it’s even a conversation has stirred up so much.”

But county officials remain optimistic, as they continue to urge residents to participate by harnessing media attention on the census to raise awareness on its importance.

“Better late than never,” said Deputy County Executive David Campos in a statement following the president’s decision. “We can now focus fully on the fundamental purpose of the census: counting everyone. The stakes are too high for us to have anything but a complete count of county residents. While we understand that the Trump Administration’s actions have already caused some community members to fear census participation, the county remains fully committed to working as a community to empower everyone to participate.”

Even a slight undercount could mean millions of dollars lost in federal funding. The county reports that 76 billion dollars a year are at stake for California alone. Santa Clara county can lose about $2,000 for each resident who isn’t counted.

That means programs that support child care, school lunch, highway construction and upkeep, Section 8 housing, and foster care could all lose vital funds. That’s why the county has expanded its outreach efforts by creating ten different subcommittees, aimed at educating and informing some of its most vulnerable communities about census participation.

Apart from the vast immigrant community, the county is also focusing on reaching out to children under the age of 5, seniors, individuals with disabilities, refugees and the unhoused.

The business community agrees.

According to Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the silicon valley organization, ensuring the most accurate count affects local businesses too. The business community cares because many investors use census information to decide what regions they want to pump money into.

“It’s very difficult to count our county, but making sure that you count everybody is critically important. This does directly impact our quality of life,” said Mahood.

But it’s more than just the money. The biggest factor, said Nicholas Kuwada, census program manager for the county, is political representation.

“The less people you count, the less representation you have,” added Kuwada. “You become invisible to the federal government for the next ten years. The House of Representatives — that’s where our voices get heard.”

Every ten years, the federal government uses census data to reapportion the 435 seats of the House of Representatives. California has 53 congressional seats, while Santa Clara county is one of the top ten most populous in the nation, which means that one of its congressional seats could be gained or lost.

“We rely on this data for the next ten years,” Kuwada said. “There’s no going back. Once it’s done — that’s it. We get our one shot.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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