Although blocked by federal judges, an effort by the Trump administration last year to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census could still discourage noncitizens from participating.
That is a concern for census officials as people started getting invitations in the mail this month to complete the census by April 1.
To help encourage noncitizens and other marginalized groups to complete the census, the Latino Community Association in Bend was recently awarded a $38,000 grant from the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, through its Oregon Census Hard to Count Campaign.
The funds will allow the community association to hire two coordinators to set up census assistance centers at its offices in Redmond and Madras. The coordinators will educate people about the census and share the importance of an accurate count.
However, the opening of the assistance centers is tentative because of precautions about the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the pandemic, the two coordinators will use social media to connect with people rather than in person, said Brad Porterfield, executive director of the community association.
“We are looking at creating virtual spaces using Facebook Live and walking people through the process of filling out the census and answering questions through that format,” Porterfield said.
With the grant funding, the Latino Community Association hopes to reach the noncitizens in the region to let them know they are welcome to fill out the census form. The organization is reminding noncitizens that information given for the census is confidential and will not be shared with immigration authorities.
“They will likely assume they are not supposed to participate and that it is for citizens only,” Porterfield said. “We need to make it really clear that it is to count every single person living in the county.”
Noncitizens make up a large portion of people in Oregon.
One in nine Oregonians, or about 456,000 people, lives with at least one noncitizen, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In Central Oregon, Deschutes County has 3,481 foreign -born Latino residents, according to data from the Latino Community Association. That data also shows Crook County has 396 foreign-born Latino residents and Jefferson County has 1,221.
In addition to noncitizens, the grant will allow the Latino Community Association to partner with Central Oregon Veterans Outreach and Central Oregon Disability Support Network to reach those communities that have been traditionally hard to count in the census.
An accurate census count of all people helps determine federal funding in Oregon for several social service programs, such as Head Start, SNAP, school lunches, housing and medical assistance.
Accurate census results could also give Oregon a sixth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Misty Slater, a U.S. Census Bureau spokeswoman for Oregon, Nevada and Idaho, said there are three ways to fill out the census — online, by phone or by mail. This is the first time the census can be filled out online.
“I responded online for a household of five people, and it took me three minutes,” Slater said. “It was easy.”