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Earlier census deadline worries Chicago communities

Households have until Sept. 30 to completed their 2020 census forms. The previous deadline was Oct. 31.

Alfredo Palafox, a community organizer with Southwest Organizing Project, goes on Facebook Live while canvassing Chicago Lawn to urge people to fill out their census forms.
Alfredo Palafox, a community organizer with Southwest Organizing Project, goes on Facebook Live while canvassing the Chicago Lawn neighborhood to urge people to fill out their census forms.
Manny Ramos for the Sun-Times

A half dozen volunteers with the Southwest Organizing Project spent Tuesday afternoon canvassing the Chicago Lawn neighborhood with a simple message: Fill out the 2020 census form.

That message was especially pertinent, given that the day before the U.S. Census Bureau announced it will end efforts to count the nation’s population a month sooner than previously expected.

“It’s about giving power back to the people and I think the census every 10 years is a great opportunity to do that,” said Alfredo Palafox, a community organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project. “We complain a lot about resources, and this is the way we bring those resources in our community, so with the deadline being moved it is extremely important that we stay out here.”

The coronavirus pandemic pushed the original 2020 census deadline from July 31 to Oct. 31.

But now that deadline has now been moved up to Sept. 30, raising concerns with census advocates in areas deemed hard-to-count.

“It’s critical that we are out here trying to raise awareness about filling out the census and this means it’s all hands-on deck now,” said Angel Lorenz, a volunteer with the Southwest Organizing Project.

Angel Lorenz, volunteer with the Southwest Organizing Project, leaves census flier on an iron-rod fence in Chicago Lawn on August 4, 2020.  Manny Ramos/Sun-Times
Angel Lorenz, volunteer with the Southwest Organizing Project, leaves census flier on an iron-rod fence in Chicago Lawn.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

Lorenz, an undocumented immigrant, said he had his own set of fears with the census and the recent actions from the Trump administration — like the memorandum issued by Donald Trump that attempts to prevent undocumented residents from being counted — has only heighten those feelings.

But, Lorenz said, he continues to advocate for the census as an important tool for his community.

“I grew up here [in Chicago Lawn], and I can tell you a lot of things haven’t changed because there aren’t any resources here,” Lorenz said while socially distancing from other volunteers as he knocked on doors. “It’s been the same for 20 years and the resources aren’t getting here.

Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, who represents the 7th District on the Southwest Side, organized Tuesday’s canvass, which is part of the “Census Action Week” that includes services like food drives paired with raising census awareness.

“We are already behind on the census count because of COVID-19 and pushing up the date is outrageous,” Anaya said. “It’s a political stunt [by the Trump administration] to keep political power away from communities of color.”

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

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.