OPINION: Immigrants should not fear the census

Three years ago I left Mexico, my family and friends and I moved to Chicago. The city welcomed me with open arms and midwestern hospitality, and eventually it became my second home. 

Sadly, this story is not the same for every immigrant that has arrived to the United States. A lot of us have dealt with repercussions of the bad image often being portrayed of immigrants on media. Because of things like the ICE raids and the efforts made to put a citizenship question on the census, immigrants have been forced to be more guarded and often afraid to participate in their civic duties. 

For the last couple of months I became heavily invested in the 2020 Census, because I enrolled in a PR class at DePaul which challenged myself and four other students to develop and implement a PR and social media campaign to educate the DePaul community about the importance of the census and encourage participation. Our campaign is called, “Make Your Community Count.”

While developing our campaign, I learned the census has an enormous impact on our community. Data from the 2010 Census shows that more than $34 billion per year in federal funding was directed to Illinois for important community programs. Census data also determines how many seats Illinois gets in U.S. Congress.

“The state of Illinois and the city of Chicago have been declining in population but there are pockets of growth,” said Illinois state-wide census director Oswaldo Alvarez. “These pockets of growth are usually among immigrant communities.” 

This means that this year, we have the power to help Chicago and Illinois get our fair share of funding and representation we need and deserve. As neighbors, we have all used the roads, parks, hospitals and other institutions that rely on federal funding. “For me it is important because I don’t have a voice to vote in this country, and this is a way for me to participate,” said Damita Menezes, an international student from Mumbai at DePaul University. 

This year, responding to the census will be easier than ever because it will be the first year people can respond online or by phone in addition to the traditional paper survey. For immigrant communities,  we have the opportunity to be counted before a U.S. Census enumerator comes and knocks on our door asking for personal information. We have the right to keep our door shut but we also have the opportunity and obligation to count in our communities by completing the census. 

“Your information is already out there if you are receiving any mail, you are receiving it from the U.S. Postal Office,” said Alvarez. “This means that the same information you will share with the census, the government already has access to. But it won’t be used for funding our communities unless it comes from the data gathered by the census.” 

These are the reasons why I extend an invitation to everyone to come and join me on Census Day, April 1, 2020, and take our opportunity as immigrants, students and citizens to ”make our community count.”