Santa Clara County supports pushback on attempts to cut the census short
Vietnamese residents receive information during a Tết event ahead of last year's census count. Photo courtesy of Census 2020 San Jose Counts.

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Santa Clara County has joined the legal effort to challenge the Trump administration’s decision to move up the census deadline.

    Due to coronavirus-related delays, the Trump administration initially requested additional time for the census with field activities slated to stop at the end of October. But Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham reversed course last month and announced data collection will be halted Sept. 30.

    The National Urban League filed a federal lawsuit, National Urban League v. Ross, to challenge the change. The case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The court ordered the Census Bureau on Sept. 5 to refrain from slowing down its data collection efforts until a hearing slated for later this month.

    Santa Clara County filed an amicus brief on behalf of 20 local governments represented in the case. Amicus briefs are legal documents filed in court cases by non-litigants who wish to share information or arguments with the court.

    “The County of Santa Clara stands firmly on the side of local communities across the nation, which will be harmed by the new Census Bureau rule,” County Counsel James Williams said. “The Trump administration’s decision to cut short the 2020 Census means that the count will be less accurate, leaving local governments ill-equipped and underinformed when responding to emergencies and caring for our residents.”

    According to a copy of the brief, moving up the census deadline will increase the likelihood that more challenging groups to record — such as racial minorities or undocumented immigrants — will go uncounted. This would have devastating effects on communities nationwide.

    “In disasters of all kinds, local governments must identify vulnerable populations in need of emergency food stamps, temporary housing, and other disaster-related services,” it states. “None of this is possible without data about local populations. Disaster planning depends on
    having accurate data reflecting the composition and location of local communities…Inaccurate census data, particularly regarding hard-to-count groups, could cost lives in an emergency.”

    The brief further explains that local governments use data obtained from the census for a variety of other functions, including law enforcement, housing development, school construction and other public services. Attempts to collect this data by other means have been unsuccessful.

    “In the past, the County of Santa Clara attempted to supplement census data through the use of private demographers, but that effort failed because the private information simply was not reliable enough at the level of granularity required by local government operations,” the brief states.

    In addition to moving up the deadline, the Trump administration has also tried to make multiple other changes to the census, including a failed attempt to add a question about citizenship and an ongoing effort to exclude undocumented immigrants from the base count used to redistribute congressional seats.

    Four of the Census Bureau’s former directors recently warned a House committee that the president’s actions would likely intimidate undocumented individuals from participating.

    Vincent Barabba, who served as director from 1973-1976 and 1979-1981, told the lawmakers all immigrants must understand they have nothing to fear from filling out a census form. Violating the confidentiality of a respondent is a federal crime, he said, one that is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

    Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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