Columnists Opinion

Correct census count is crucial to our government

As an in home supportive services provider, I keep meeting people at local clinics who are suffering because they avoided going to the doctor until they were very sick, hoping to avoid the high cost of care.

There are already so few options for affordable health care in my community, I worry about how a census undercount could hurt my patients when funding for Medicaid and children’s health care allocated to states and localities is cut based on census data.

With fewer options for affordable health care, more people in my community wouldn’t attend to their medical needs and would skip doses of their medications. To make matters worse, a census undercount would also deprive us of the proper representation in Congress to get the resources we need.

That is why I’m joining working people across this country to urge the Supreme Court to save the census. Our nation’s highest court must rule against the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census form.

Having an accurate census count is critical to ensuring working families have the jobs, resources and opportunities they need to get ahead. So when I’m not working, I’m out in my community with my union brothers and sisters spreading the word about the importance of participating in the next census.

During these conversations, people are sharing their concerns about what answering a census that includes a citizenship question would mean to their lives. They are reluctant to fill out the form because they’re not sure if their personal information would be confidential or if answering the citizenship question would make their family a target for harassment, job losses and separation.

Their fear resonates with me as the daughter of Mexican immigrants as it should for almost every American who is either the neighbor, friend, family member, or coworker of an immigrant. I try to reassure them to the best of my ability, but like most Americans, I haven’t been able to find a reasonable explanation for Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the census.

The question hasn’t been included in the census since 1950 and was pushed out against the warnings of elected officials and census experts.

You don’t have to be a statistician or a policy analyst to know adding a citizenship question to the census is a recipe for disaster. Asking every household and every person in the country about their citizenship status, at a time when immigrant families are being torn apart by deportations, will only cause more apprehension about sharing personal information, especially in black and Latino households.

Hundreds of thousands of people in communities of color could avoid answering the census for fear of being targeted by this administration. Black and Latino households have historically been at a greater risk of being undercounted, which can lead to unequal political representation and unequal access to vital public and private resources.

If people avoid filling out their census forms for fear of being targeted or deported, everyone — black, white and brown — loses. If participation in the 2020 census plummets, our voices will be weakened in our economy and democracy. Communities will lose vital funding for jobs, schools, food and housing assistance as well as transportation.

Considering what’s at stake for working families, we can’t afford for the integrity of the census to be compromised by the president’s citizenship question. Our government works best when everyone is encouraged to participate in our democracy, not when we put up more barriers to make it harder for working Americans to participate in the process.

When the Supreme Court considers whether the citizenship question will be on the census form I want the justices to also consider how much a fair and accurate census is necessary to ensuring that our government works for all people now and in the future. That’s not too much to ask for, right?

Patricia Bedoya is an in home supportive service provider and a member of Service Employee International Union Local 2015. She lives in Bell Gardens.