Local, State Organizations Encourage Inclusion of Communities in Midst of 2020 Census Fears

by Hannah Myrick

Communities across King County risk being undercounted in the upcoming census because of fear around a potential citizenship question, according to organizations that work with undercounted populations in Washington.

The Department of Justice requested at the end of 2017 that the 2020 Census includes a question that would ask participants if they are U.S. citizens.

On April 23 during oral arguments, the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court seemed in favor of allowing the question, according to reporting from NPR. In June, the court will publish an opinion on the question.

The move discourages people from participating in the Census and could lead an inaccurate count, said Aneelah Afzali, the Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network – Muslim Association of Puget Sound.

“We’re hearing concerns with immigrants or families of immigrants around the issue of, ‘What does this mean?’” said Afzali. “If there is a question on documentation status, people don’t want to participate.”

Immigrant communities have reason to fear the citizenship question. In 1940, the U.S. Census Bureau shared data with the War Department (now Defense Department) to put Japanese Americans in internment camps, according to a study by two academics.

MAPS-AMEN Community Organizer Theresa Crecelius shared that fear, saying that she does not trust that the Census Bureau would keep community members’ citizenship status private.

“I know the census affects federal funding, representation for the next 10 years, but it’s also like, are we gonna end up in camps?” said Crecelius. “Then I have a moral dilemma. Do I put my community in danger by getting them to participate in the census, or not?”

To address growing risks of undercounts in the 2020 census, two Washington nonprofits opened a grant application on April 15 to fund community-based organizations to do outreach and ensure an accurate count. The Seattle Foundation and Philanthropy Northwest created the grant to encourage the inclusion of hard-to-count communities throughout the state, said Ankita Patel, the Policy Manager for the Census Equity Fund created by Philanthropy Northwest.

Hard-to-count populations are those who return responses at a lower level of participation in the census. These groups include people of color, low-income households, foreign-born residents and others, according to Washington’s page on census data and research.

Across King County, hard-to-count communities are spread far and wide, said Masih Fouladi, the Executive Director at the Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington. From 2000 to 2016 Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian, East African communities have increased in Bellevue, Seattle and Tacoma, by around 200 percent, he said.

Based on the results of the 2010 census, Washington received another congressional seat and around $16.6 billion for various statewide programs. From Section 8 housing to Medicaid, these funds reach across Washington, according to research by George Washington University.

“As an advocacy organization we’re trying to take all of this into account and make sure that our state is in a place where our individuals are taking advantage of the funding that’s coming from the government that’s supporting their livelihoods as residents of Washington,” Fouladi said.

In meetings with King County officials about the upcoming census, Crecelius has discussed the fear her community faces. In the future she hopes the city will also work to organize and host educational events with communities and their representatives in undercounted areas to encourage engagement. The inclusion of interpreters is also necessary because the census is only conducted in 13 languages, said Crecelius.

MAPS-AMEN is not applying for the grant, but Crecelius said that the organization plans to work with and advertise for other organizations such as CAIR that are applying to the grant and working in the community.

Funding for the Washington Census Equity Fund at Philanthropy Northwest began with money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said Karen Westing, the Communications Director at Philanthropy Northwest.

The rest came from a team of around 20 philanthropy organizations that pooled their resources to create the full fund of $1.1 million to complete various funding proposals. The Seattle Foundation Regional Census Fund contributed $500,000 alongside $250,000 each from King County and the City of Seattle to create another $1 million, focusing on organizations working in the county specifically, according to Roske.

The application for organizations county and statewide will be open from April 15 and May 15. After applications are submitted, panels made up of community-based partners at both Philanthropy Northwest and the Seattle Foundation will evaluate the proposals.

“Especially right now where things have happened that have created fear in marginalized communities, it’s more important than ever to make sure we do what we can to get the word out,” Afzali said.

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Featured Photo Courtesy MAPS-AMEN.