One in 10 North Carolinians is Latino; will they all be counted on Census Day?

Published in The Herald Sun | News on

For the first time, there’s a statewide committee focused on persuading North Carolina’s Latino residents to take part in the census.

As the 2020 census approaches this spring, committees in cities and counties across North Carolina are working to encourage people to fill out their forms, to ensure the state is properly represented in Congress and gets its fair share of federal spending.

For the first time, there’s a statewide committee focused on persuading North Carolina’s Latino residents to take part in the census. An estimated 1 million Latinos live in the state, accounting for one of every 10 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and supporters of the campaign say an accurate count of the state’s population isn’t possible if significant numbers of Hispanics don’t take part.

“The funding we get back because of the census is based on an actual count of our state’s people,” Machelle Sanders, the state Secretary of Administration and head of the N.C. Complete Count Commission, said at a press conference to announce the N.C. Latino Complete Count Committee. “Not an estimate, but an actual count.

The campaign, spearheaded by the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina, an advocacy group, must overcome a wariness of government shared by many Latino residents. The Trump administration abandoned its efforts to include a question about citizenship last summer, but many people still worry the census might be used to identify non-citizens.

“Everywhere I go, every time I speak with a Latino organization, the first question I get is about the citizenship question,” said Stacy Carless, executive director of the N.C. Counts Coalition, a nonprofit coordinating census campaigns statewide. “That just goes to show you that the harm has already been done with that question. And it is incredibly important that we rebuild trust within our community and maintain the integrity of the census operation.”

The U.S. Constitution requires the government to count everyone living in the country every 10 years, regardless of whether they are citizens.

Another concern is confidentiality. The message to Latinos, and all US. residents, is that the Census Bureau does not share information it collects with other government agencies, including law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Individual census forms remain confidential for 72 years.

Latino immigrants who aren’t familiar with the census are vulnerable to misconceptions and misinformation about the count, said Armando Cruz-Martinez, regional census campaign manager for The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund.

“Our biggest goal is to make sure that the Latino community is fully participating in the American political process. One of those processes is the census,” Cruz-Martinez said. “And it’s our job to get that information to them and to make sure that they are prepared for the census so that their families count, their communities count, so that they can receive the funding and the recognition that they deserve.”

Language could also be a barrier in some places where promotional materials for the census are predominantly in English. The printed census forms will be available in English and Spanish, and those who fill out the census online, available for the first time this year, will be able to use one of 13 languages.

Speaking at a conference in the Triangle earlier this month, NALEO Educational Fund’s executive director Arturo Vargas said research shows Latinos are more likely to want to fill out a census form when they understand that the distribution of federal money is often determined by population.

More than 300 federal programs relied on census data in deciding how to spend more than $1.5 trillion in fiscal year 2017, according to a new report by the Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Governments, businesses, nonprofits and residents in North Carolina received nearly $44 billion of that money, according to the report.

But Grant Godwin, who heads the board for the N.C. Rural Center, said the role of the census in determining political representation is also important. North Carolina is expected to pick up at least one new seat in Congress based on the 2020 census, but Godwin said the count will also be used to help determine state House and Senate districts.

“The population of North Carolina has been shifting towards urban, and that’s great,” Godwin said. “But it’s critical that to maintain the rural voice and represent approximately the 4.5 million residents of the state that are in the 80 rural counties it’s important that we count everyone and that everyone be recognized.”