Rio Arriba County commissioners passed a resolution Jan. 28 vowing to support the County’s immigrant community during the 2020 Census.
Following the resolution, County officials will help with outreach efforts to ensure immigrants are counted in the Census, providing outreach in Spanish and working with community groups so that immigrants feel safe during the count, which will occur this spring.
“For our community to be whole, it is necessary that families and loved ones remain together and that all people, including those without documentation, feel welcome and comfortable interacting with local law enforcement, their local government, and all service providers,” the resolution states.
Nohemy Santana, a senior at Española Valley High School and a member of Española’s immigrant community, presented the resolution to the commissioners.
She said that at a recent meeting of Somos un Pueblo Unido, an immigrant-led community organization dedicated to worker and racial justice, one out of twenty attendees said they participated in the last Census.
“When we asked why, most people said they did not know about it, or they were fearful to give their information out,” she said. “It will only be harder this time around. Our community continues to experience deportations.”
Somos documented 15 deportations in Española last year, she said, adding that immigrants are mostly arrested in the street or when they attend probation or court appointments.
She said too that the Trump administration’s attempt to add a question to the Census about citizenship created even greater uncertainty in the community.
Had federal courts not blocked the attempt in July, every person who filled out the Census would have had to answer the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
The County resolution recognizes that U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have obtained information about immigrants from their court and probation records and that ICE officials have unsuccessfully tried to identify and search immigrants through the Department of Workforce Solutions and the Department of Motor Vehicle Databases.
“It would really make me feel better if I knew that everything was private and if I knew that everything was confidential,” Santana told the commissioners. “It would make me feel safer in the County where I reside. There is a real fear around our County that Census information will be shared with ICE.”
Santana said an accurate census report from the County will require County officials’ efforts to build trust with members of the immigrant community, who are afraid to open their doors to government officials.
The resolution states that other challenges immigrants might face during the census count include lack of internet access and information about the census.
The Census count determines how much funding local communities receive, as well as how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes a state is allocated. It includes all residents of the U.S., regardless of citizenship status.
If just 1 percent of County residents go uncounted, the County will lose $11,638,055 in revenue over ten years, according to data from the University of New Mexico. If 20 percent go uncounted, the County will lose $232,761,096.
Somos launched a door knocking campaign Feb. 8 to provide information about the Census to as many immigrant families as possible, Santana said. The campaign will continue throughout weekends in February.
County Special Projects Coordinator Cristina Caltagirone said that part of a $90,000 grant the County received from the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration for Census outreach will be used specifically for the County’s outreach efforts with the immigrant community.
“We need to let our immigrant families know that it’s not them and us,” District 2 Commissioner Leo Jaramillo said, in support of the resolution. “We’re a collective community, and we need to stand together and protect each other and ensure that the money comes in for the benefit of all of us.”