Opinion | Three Governors on How They’re Fighting Trump’s Census Manipulation

It’s been a tumultuous few days tracking whether and how a citizenship question will be included in the 2020 census. And it appears President Trump has finally conceded defeat after the Supreme Court blocked the question from being included last month.

But regardless of what happens at the federal level, we will make sure the people in our states are counted. We know that immigrant families, terrorized by the president’s policies, are afraid to open their doors because being seen can put them in danger.

Our government should not be intentionally inciting fear. But we can’t let these tactics break down the barriers of the democratic institutions we hold sacred. If people do not take part in the census, the president wins.

The Census Bureau released a study recently predicting an undercount of more than seven million people if the citizenship question had been included. Let that sink in. Seven million people who are our neighbors, friends, colleagues and family, and whose lives are woven into the fabric of our communities.

But just because the citizenship question will not be included doesn’t mean an end to the confusion or anxiety. We will not sit idly by, and we are committed to reassuring our communities that they can feel secure in taking part in the census and that their participation matters.

A miscount would have huge consequences. It would significantly erode the political power of communities of color and reduce funding to vulnerable communities for things like health care services, education programs and bridges and roads.

Our economies could also suffer. Businesses use census data to make $4 trillion in annual private investment decisions. And the information helps them decide where to build, invest in other businesses and what to sell to whom. Utility companies use it to influence where they add infrastructure and invest in new technology.

Everyone must be counted. And as governors, we are working hard to ensure the people of our states feel confident about their participation.

Everyone has certain basic rights and protections, regardless of their immigration status. Census data is shielded by some of the most protective privacy and confidentiality laws on the books. Those who fear opening their doors can be counted online, by phone and through community-based efforts.

The Constitution mandates the Census Bureau achieve a fair and accurate count of every person living in the United States — regardless of ethnicity, immigration status, income level or ZIP code. We hope Congress will dedicate additional funding for the 2020 census, but we aren’t waiting on it. And just as we have responded to the attacks on voting rights, reproductive rights and the environment, our states are pushing back.

Our states will continue to allocate our own resources to support specialized groups, known as Complete Count committees, that draw on local knowledge, influence and resources to educate every community about participating in the census. These committees will work with local and state government leaders, communities of color, indigenous tribes and businesses to convey the message that it’s safe to take part. Strict privacy and confidentiality protections allow our communities to be counted without fear.

California is the largest and hardest to count state. Ten of the nation’s 50 hardest-to-count counties are there, including Los Angeles, the most difficult because of language barriers, the number of homeless people, and renters and immigrant communities that fear and distrust the federal government.

This is why California started planning in 2017, is investing over $187.2 million, more than any other state, and is focused on reaching hard-to-count populations who meet certain demographic, housing and socioeconomic criteria that make it more challenging for them to be counted.

The state has developed a regional approach to engage local partners, trusted messengers and philanthropy in its goal to communicate with people. And California is working with partners to support local questionnaire assistance centers and kiosks so that people can find in-person and in-language help.

Oregon is bringing together local business and philanthropy leaders, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, and government partners from across the state to create public-awareness campaigns that will educate Oregonians about the importance of being included in the census. It is crucial that people are informed about the census from trusted community leaders and partners.

Oregon is convening multilingual community forums to share information about the census and listen to people’s concerns; airing culturally specific TV and radio ads; and setting up census assistance centers. The state just passed bipartisan legislation that will allocate $7.5 million for this work.

In Washington, the 2020 Complete Count committee is led by Gary Locke, who oversaw the 2010 census as secretary of commerce. The state is awarding grants to community-based organizations that will serve as trusted messengers and provide support to hard-to-count populations. Washington has also strengthened laws regarding data sharing with federal and immigration enforcement agencies.

A significant undercount would deprive our communities of critical resources and political representation. Refusing to take part will only advance the goals of anti-immigrant hard-liners.

There is power in numbers, whether it is the number of people living in our states or the number of states like us that band together. We stand for every Oregonian, Californian and Washingtonian and will work to make sure that everyone is counted.


Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) is the governor of Oregon. Jay Inslee (@GovInslee) is the governor of Washington. Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) is the governor of California.

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