The U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to count everyone living in the United States every 10 years. EVERYONE. In the beginning, this accurate comprehensive count was important because it determined the number of representatives a state would have in Congress. The Founders carefully chose the word “resident” not “citizen” because southern slave owners insisted that their slaves be counted too – albeit as three-fifths a person. The bitter irony of that – counting slaves so a state would continue to have the political power in Congress to continue to enslave them – should not escape any of us.
Fast forward to Decennial Census 2020. Before a single form has been distributed in our state, the uphill battle towards an accurate count has been made steeper than ever. Debate over the “citizenship question” – cynically orchestrated to chill immigrant participation whether the question made it onto the actual census form or not – has all but guaranteed that states like Illinois with large immigrant populations will face extra challenges in reaching these communities. The first time use of Internet forms has heightened the usual fears over privacy and confidentiality. Misinformation and myths have served only to increase resistance to responding. Here are some facts to dispel those myths. Census information is completely confidential. No one will tell your landlord about your unauthorized roommate. And children under five count too!
This year, Cook County – along with the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois – have invested unprecedented dollars to ensure that everyone is counted. No one can make you complete your census form. And despite dire warnings in some newscasts about fines, the U.S. Census Bureau could not provide a single example of a fine being levied for failure to complete the form.
But here is why we are working so hard and investing so much to ensure everyone is counted. It is not for the benefit of the government; it is for the benefit of the people served by the government. That means YOU. Your political power is determined by your responses to the census. Funding for schools, hospitals, roads, water systems, and other public infrastructure is determined by the census. This is about YOUR rights. Not the government.
Despite all actions by the federal administration to undercount communities of color, including immigrant communities, we must do everything in our power to ensure a complete and accurate count! We can do it! ¡Sí se puede!
Lamell McMorris, Chair
Commissioner Alma E. Anaya, Vice-Chair
Members, Cook County Complete Count Census Commission’s
Subcommittee on Community and Faith Based Organizations