Home Newspaper What Fil-Ams should know About the 2020 Census

What Fil-Ams should know About the 2020 Census

by Cherie M. Querol Moreno l Positively Filipino
There are at least 55 reasons why California, the Golden State, is the most courted state by anyone dreaming of becoming President of the United States.

To succeed, the wannabe leader of the free world needs to top the Electoral College by winning the number of electoral votes assigned every state in the nation, superseding the popular vote, or the total individual votes garnered.  The leftmost state is as precious as its nickname because it boasts 55 electoral votes, the highest in the country.

Every state is allocated several votes equal to the number of senators and representatives in its U.S. Congressional delegation:  That would be two votes for its senators in the U.S. Senate plus a number of votes equal to the number of its members in the U. S. House of Representatives.  The more state representatives to the House, the higher the number of the state electoral votes.

As of January 2019, California had 53 members of the House with Rep. TJ Cox (D-21), the first Filipino American from the Golden State elected and among the last few sworn in last year to join the lower chamber of Congress.

Every 10 years, however, the number of state representatives to the House tends to shift.  That’s when the U.S. Census takes place to determine the population of the entire nation including its states and municipalities and territories.

When the decennial enumeration is completed, U.S. House and State Legislature seats are designated or redrawn in what is called redistricting.  Depending on the count, states may lose or gain seats in the House and the state legislature.  Redistricting is legally required to ensure districts are created equal to the population.  The higher the population, the more districts and therefore the more seats and more representatives to advocate for its residents.

Anyone who thinks the presidential aspirant who bags California can start choosing the drapes for the White House can ask Hillary Clinton, who was blind-sided like most in 2016 by the proverbial ball shooting out of the left field. 

But redistricting is not the point here.  Neither is the election for the new POTUS, which is on Nov. 3, 2020.

This discussion is about belonging, participating, owning responsibility to self and others.

When the U.S. Census takes place on April 1, 2020, every person who lives in the United States of America will be asked to get counted. 

The newly convened coalition wants Filipinos to know that billions in funding for programs including care for older adults and children, schools, transportation are determined by the decennial enumeration. (Photo courtesy Maria Baligod/Bay Area Filipino Complete Count Committee)

What for? 

·      To allocate funding for education, health, child care, transportation, and other critical community programs

·      To make sure all residents are represented fairly in local, state, and national government

·      To help community leaders, businesses, and nonprofits make good decisions about programs and policies.

That’s the pitch from the County of San Mateo Office of Community Affairs that’s among the government bodies revving up for the upcoming national exercise.

They stress:  Businesses use census data to decide where to build factories, offices, and stores, which create jobs, we’re told. Local governments use the census for public safety and emergency preparedness, real estate developers for building new homes and revitalizing old neighborhoods.


Fact is all public funding stems from statistics culled from the census, without which no one would know who needs what the most and how best to deliver those services.

What will be asked:

·      Number of people living in a household, homeownership, and phone number

·      Name, sex, age and date of birth, race, and ethnicity of each person living in the household

Citizenship or immigration status will not be asked, explained Melissa Vergara, County community outreach specialist, at a recent meeting of the San Mateo County Commission on Aging at the Health Systems offices.

Vergara appealed to the Commission and public attendees to help reach groups often undercounted, citing as focus immigrants, people of color, households with low-income, limited English proficiency, children under the age of five, the homeless or in unstable housing situations.

Alameda County-based Filipino Advocates for Justice counts itself among the movers of BAFCCC. (Photo courtesy Maria Baligod/Bay Area Filipino Complete Count Committee)

Indeed, certain populations have always had a fear and suspicion of the government, stemming from their experience living under authoritarian rule in their countries of origin.  Top that skepticism with pervasive anti-immigrant sentiment and nativism emanating from the corridors of power, and enumerators might as well be talking to the wind.

Hence immigrant communities are mobilizing to address those issues.

“The current climate of fear-based politics instills a general sentiment of distrust in the government; this exacerbates the existing challenges of the Hard-To-Count (HTC) communities,” concurred Luisa Antonio, co-chair of the Bay Area Filipino Complete Count Committee, a coalition formed to utilize its members’ reputation and track record to assuage public apprehension with “factual information.”

Antonio, who is executive director of the Bayanihan Equity Center in San Francisco, stressed education as the key to the endeavor.

“The education campaign will include the historical foundation of the United States Census under the Constitution, its importance in the distribution of resources from housing to education, from transportation to meal programs, from health services to public safety, and more importantly, the emphasis on the confidentiality of census data,” she said. 

The coalition’s focus communities need to hear about confidentiality of census data from service providers as well as “government and public officials and all forms of media,” she added, citing the County of San Mateo Office of Community Affairs, Offices of Supervisor David Canepa and South San Francisco City Council Member Mark Nagales as partners in reaching said groups.

Antonio disclosed that the coalition received funding from Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs of the City and County of San Francisco and Silicon Valley Foundation to “ensure an accurate count of Filipinos and Filipino Americans in the region for Census 2020 to receive appropriate financial resources and fair political representation.”

“More than $675 billion in federal funds are at stake…critical funding shapes our future for the next 10 years, particularly for our immigrant community that relies on public transportation, schools, hospitals, senior care, and government-funded community-based programs and services,” she noted.

The coalition also includes the Filipino American Development Foundation, Filipino Advocates for Justice, LEAD-Filipino and South of Market Community Action Network.

In June the U.S. Supreme Court quashed President Donald Trump’s attempt to include citizenship among the census questions.  Trump responded with an executive order for the Department of Commerce to collect State administrative records concerning citizenship.  The motivation for the July 11 order is to gather accurate information to gain an understanding of the “true scope” of the problem of illegal immigration in this country, he said.

Trump added: “The executive order is not directed against particular individuals but rather for making policy determinations.”     

Antonio called the executive order “another inhumane policy to create paranoia amongst those who will be taking part in the Census”

“Obviously, he is doing indirectly what he was prohibited by the Supreme Court. But as the Chief Executive, he is within his power to direct his agencies to collect citizenship data as long as it does not prejudice vulnerable immigrants and their ability to participate in the Census,” she said.  “We are on a mission to educate the Filipino community about the importance of participating in the Census. We have to make sure that this Executive Order will not be a deterrent to our plans and that every Filipino immigrant be counted in the coming 2020 Census.”

Within days from issuance, Judges George Jarrod Hazel of the US District Courts in Maryland and Jesse Furman in New York blocked the executive order.

NBC News reported in October that The Associated Press had confirmed that the US Census Bureau had begun asking states for driver license records that include citizenship information. AP said the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators had advised members to confer with their privacy officers and make determinations individually by state.

Illinois State Sec. Jesse White reportedly has rejected the request.

County Census offices take direction from the State “team,” San Mateo County Public Information Officer Michelle Durand replied to PF request for comment on the executive order.  She said she was unaware as yet of guidance from the state regarding compliance.  She did offer the following statement: “On behalf of the county and its partners in the census, I can say that San Mateo County is proud to be nationally designated as a Welcoming County and understands the concerns residents — particularly those who may be undocumented — have about data confidentiality. We are making a concerted effort to let our residents know that the Census information collected is safeguarded and not used to identify those who may be at risk for deportation or other action. In San Mateo County, everyone counts and it is critical everyone is counted.”


The challenges to a complete count are bigger than ever, Vergara propounded.  Less funding leads to fewer local offices and field staff to follow up on non-responses.  And with the count primarily going online, the old concerns about data security, digital access, and literary barriers loom large. 

Considering the above barriers, the US Census is forging ahead with the online form in English plus 12 languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Haiti Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.  The paper form will be available in English and Spanish, the two most-spoken languages in the country (according to the 2010 Census).

The exercise takes just 10 minutes and 10 questions, and only every 10 years. 

If not for the census how would we have known that Daly City has the highest concentration of Filipinos in the continental United States and that Tagalog is the fifth most spoken language in the US? Those hard facts bolster advocacies for social services, housing and bilingual education in the largest city in San Mateo County.

So here’s the scoop:  On March 2020, residents will receive a mailed postcard with instructions on filling the census form online.  Yes, online.  Everyone has 6 months to practice their digital skills.

Some folks will receive a paper form or request one. Information for completing the form may be received by phone.

Starting April 1, 2020, the Census Bureau will send reminders in the mail, and residents can get help completing forms at Assistance Centers to be designated at key locations, such as the Bayanihan Equity Center and its partners in San Francisco and Alameda Countries and Peninsula Family Service in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

The following month, May, Census Bureau workers will knock on doors of those who have not completed the form to try collecting information in person.  

Participating in the federal enumeration is painless, Vergara posits, if everyone embraces the responsibility to stay informed and fight misinformation.   

“The 2020 Census counts everyone living in the country, including non-citizens, all ages, and regardless of criminal history,” she read off the slide before issuing the most important angle: “The law prevents the Census Bureau from sharing your information with law enforcement.  The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to protect your personal information and keep it strictly confidential.”

Reiterating confidentiality, Vergara said all staff at the Census Bureau take an oath for life to protect the privacy of responses collected.  Sharing any details is a federal crime punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 or federal imprisonment of up to 5 years.

“Reponses will be combined to produce statistics, so individuals and households will not be identified,” she said. “Information collected is reported as statistics.  Census responses cannot be used against you by any government agency.  Not the FBI, the CIA, Homeland Security or ICE.”

Now if you have presidential ambitions, you may want to fill out your census form so you don’t have to deflect or deny that you skipped a civic duty at one of those campaign debates.

San Francisco Bay Area-based Cherie M. Querol Moreno, MC74 Communication Arts, earned a 2019 Homecoming Triple-A award for advocating for Filipino American empowerment as a journalist and promoting safe environments as founder-executive director of ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She received her award in spirit.


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