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Immigrant, refugee communities urged to fill out 2020 census

On what Chicago-area groups were calling Illinois Immigrant and Refugee Census Day, they used phone banks and vehicle caravans to target populations that have been slowest to respond to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cesar Nuñez adds the finishing touches to his vehicle that will be part of a caravan that will drive through Little Village reminding people to fill out the 2020 census, Wednesday, June 17, 2020. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Cesar Nuñez adds the finishing touches to his vehicle that will be part of a caravan that will drive through Little Village reminding people to fill out the 2020 census.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

An advocacy group and its partners kicked off a daylong event Wednesday promoting the 2020 census and encouraging Chicago’s immigrant community to be counted.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights began the day with a virtual news conference, where organizers and elected officials took turns discussing the significance of the census.

Organizers also launched a phone bank with plans to make 5,000 phone calls to residents encouraging them to fill out their forms on what they were calling the Illinois Immigrant and Refugee Census Day.

Lawrence Benito, CEO of the refugee coalition, said that since last year, their partners in the Chicago area have knocked on over 45,000 doors and made over 100,000 calls to households to raise awareness for the census.

“We have also assisted over 13,000 people in completing their census and over 8,500 of which were only able to complete their census through the facilitation of our activities,” Benito said. “Completing the 2020 census is safe and is a significant opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of immigrants, refugees and new Americans.”

As of June 16, nearly 100 million households have responded to the census nationwide, including 3.7 million in Illinois. The state’s 66.2% response rate is eighth-best in the country; Minnesota’s 71% leads the pack. Illinois is also the most populous state in the top 10.

Chicago’s 53.8% response rate also leads other large cities, including New York (52.2%), Houston (51.9%) and Los Angeles (51%).

Pockets of the city and state, however, remain slow to respond — including many households concentrated in immigrant communities.

One of the vehicles that joined a caravan driving through Little Village in June to remind people to fill out the 2020 Census.
Fernanda Hernandez, left, with help from Margarita Marquez, adds the finishing touches to their vehicle that will drive through the Little Village neighborhood reminding people to fill out the 2020 census.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Caravans also happened Wednesday in Joliet, Berwyn and five Chicago neighborhoods. Residents decorated their cars with 2020 census slogans, carried signs and honked their horns during the parade.

State Rep. Edgar Gonzalez, D-Chicago, took part in a caravan in Little Village on Wednesday afternoon to stress the importance of filling out the census.

“We want to make sure we count as many people as possible because those are federal dollars that are going into communities and we want to make sure we get a piece of that,” Gonzalez said. “Little Village is underfunded and lacks a lot of resources, so we want to make sure we get what we deserve.”

The result of the census will not only determine how federal funds are distributed but also the number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives, the redrawing of congressional districts and a state’s number of electors in the Electoral College for the next 10 years.

“We have to do everything we can to tell people that their information is confidential and that money is going to come into our communities that will go toward roads, our schools, our hospitals and political representation,” Gonzalez said.

Cesar Nuñez, director of organizing at Enlace Chicago, said the threat of a citizenship question on the census form — which ended up not happening — and the global coronavirus pandemic has hurt their nonprofit’s census outreach effort. But using phone banks and caravans have proved fruitful.

“Residents are scared; they are scared, and it’s like we are trying to let them know this is an opportunity for us to be counted and recognized,” Nuñez said. “We all can’t vote but we all can be counted in order to leverage these resources for the next 10 years.”

The last day to fill out the census has been pushed back to October 31 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Census takers will start knocking on doors of those who have not responded on August 11.

Residents can fill out the census at my2020census.gov, call 844-330-2020 or by mail.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

A vehicle zooms through the Little Village neighborhood with its horn blaring and its lights flashing to remind people to fill out their 2020 census.
A vehicle zips through the Little Village neighborhood with its horn blaring and its lights flashing to remind people to fill out their 2020 census.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times