It goes without saying that 2020 will be a year for the history books — and the most marginalized populations have suffered the worst during this traumatizing year. The worldwide ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought even more setbacks to our fight for a fair count in the U.S. Decennial Census, in particular our Queer the Census campaign which includes collaborations with dozens of diverse LGBTQ+ and allied organizations.
Not only has this been an issue of extreme importance but also a time-sensitive one. As a person who holds both LGBTQ+ and immigrant identities, the Census is crucial for ensuring resources are allocated to underserved communities. My work at the Task Force, specifically pushing for an accurate count of LGBTQ+, immigrant, and marginalized people, is driven by my personal experience as a previously undocumented queer person. Living as an immigrant for years before even knowing English and struggling to help my mom grasp details that even I didn’t understand was a challenge. I didn’t have the words or knowledge to explain why our community didn’t have as many resources, services, and supports as others. I didn’t know that completing the Census determined the quality of life in our neighborhood or whether our community had enough congressional representation for our population. Now that I know, I want all non-citizens to complete the Census. We need resources allocated proportionately and equally to communities that need them the most.
Every decade, the Census misses, or undercounts, millions of marginalized people, including LGBTQ+ people, low-income people, people of color, and very young children. At the same time, it over counts, or double counts, millions of people with the most privilege, including the white population, homeowners, and wealthy people.
The Census will not come around for another decade, so we have one chance to do this in 2020 and continue to advocate for more inclusive and diverse questions for 2030, from expanded questions related to gender to more inclusive LGBTQ+ focused questions.
We know the Census is far from perfect, but it has gradually gotten better due to the advocacy of organizations working for a more representative and accurate count — from our organization to NALEO to Census Counts. One highlight from the work that's been done is the recognition of same-sex households on the Census. Again, this by no means represents the LGBTQ+ community in its entirety, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. This Census there is a tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes and public advocacy for better counting of LGBTQ+, homeless, immigrant, undocumented and other diverse populations that are far too often hard to reach or hesitant to respond out of fear.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration is making changes to the Census and trying to derail and discourage the process at every turn. Recently, the administration issued a memo calling on the U.S. Census Bureau to subtract non-citizens from the final count for the purposes of allocating political power. That is illegal and will not stand — the Constitution requires a count of every person in this country. But if we don't fight back and ensure non-citizens are counted by completing the Census, we will be dealing with the consequences for years and people will suffer.
As a queer immigrant, it is especially hurtful to see the consistent attacks this administration has inflicted on communities like mine, including many of my family members. My relatives have avoided disclosing their citizenship status for the fear of ridicule, discrimination, and judgement from the general public. We all know that fear tactics are this administration’s favored tool to divide us and that compliments their agenda to benefit the most privileged.
The Census helps us ensure that our members of Congress reflect our communities. Leaving out hard-working people due to their immigration status is an injustice. It is blatantly obvious that scaring immigrant and undocumented communities into any form of political participation is a priority of this administration. There have already been several misleading comments made by the administration about non-citizens voting and rhetoric about either being lazy and living on welfare or taking all the jobs from Americans, which is offensive and untrue.
They have been pushing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials left and right to arrest, detain, and deport immigrants that have done nothing wrong, and even some that have served in the U.S. military. Currently, stories out of Portland, Ore., of federal agents kidnapping protesters and taking them away in their vans are extremely disturbing. These actions discourage immigrants who might be at risk of legal action from participating in political actions and having their voice heard. Although non-citizens do not have the right to vote, they can and should make their voices heard by playing a part in movements and being counted. When you silence dissent and experiences from marginalized groups, you perpetuate yourself as being a leader for only some people, a shameful hallmark of this administration.
In direct correlation with the Census is the congressional representative apportionment done by the Census the year prior to its completion. Even without the vote, non-citizens deserve a representative that cares about them and serves their communities. Erasing immigrant communities can remove a congressional district allocated to the region due to its increasing population. This would once again, silence and reduce the voices of those living in those areas.
While there is still no absolute concrete decision on whether non-citizens will be counted by this year’s Census for the purpose of reapportionment and redistricting, I encourage everyone to complete their Census. There is no law or consequences that come with filling out your Census regardless of citizenship status and filling out the Census as an immigrant is not illegal. We at the National LGBTQ Task Force acknowledge how important it is to have underserved communities heard and counted, and we will fight for your rights to be represented equally and fairly.
Fausto Cardenas (pronouns they/them/theirs) is the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Queering Democracy Community Organizer, working to coordinate the Task Force’s outreach programs to Queer The Census, Get Out The Vote in registering and empowering returning citizens, ensuring successful election cycles, and fighting for LGBTQ people of color across the board.