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Fri11222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Diego San Luis Ortega was a toddler when his parents brought him to California from Veracruz, Mexico. Now 22 and a “Dreamer” who is protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, he is a political activist and a community college student in Visalia who hopes to become a history teacher.

He is also gung-ho about standing up to be counted in the 2020 census, despite the concerns of many family and friends that participation could put their ability to remain in the United States in jeopardy.

“At the end of the day,” Ortega said, “if it’s to better my community, I’ll do it. If I get hurt, I get hurt.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates an “actual enumeration” of each state’s population every 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau, part of the U.S. Commerce Department, conducts the decennial count, which aims to determine how many people reside in the United States and where they live.

The answers determine, among other things, how many congressional seats each state will have for the coming decade, and where hundreds of billions of federal dollars will be spent on medical and nutritional programs, the national school-lunch program, housing vouchers, Head Start, highway construction and myriad other programs. The information also is used to redraw congressional and state legislative district boundaries.

A significant element of the 2020 census remains unresolved, awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court decision: Will the Trump administration be allowed to add a question about citizenship?

The administration has argued that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, added the question to collect detailed data to enforce the Voting Rights Act. District court judges concluded that enforcement of the voting law was a pretext. Many legal analysts have concluded that the question was politically motivated, designed to limit the political power of immigrant communities—areas that typically prefer to vote for Democrats.

At issue is how the citizenship question came to be added and whether Ross ignored administrative review processes. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in part that the courts should not meddle in the Commerce Department’s decisions regarding the census. President Trump broke with the Justice Department’s official line last week, writing on Twitter that “the American people deserve to know who is in this country.”

But grassroots activists and social science researchers contend that if the question is added, immigrants and their families—whether documented or unauthorized—would be less likely to respond or might respond inaccurately because of fears that the information would be used for immigration enforcement.

California and other states with high immigrant populations stand to lose big. Migrants, particularly Latinos and Asian Americans, have grown to fear the federal government after years of hearing anti-immigrant rhetoric from President Trump and like-minded Republicans.

“We think Californians will be less likely to fully answer the form if this question is included,” said Sarah Bohn, director of research and a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco. “If there’s a bad count overall, and immigrant communities are undercounted, it would be entirely possible for us to lose a seat in Congress.”

In lawsuits brought by dozens of states, cities and groups, three federal judges at U.S. district courts in California, New York and Maryland have issued rulings blocking the administration’s plan to add the question, which asks: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” The last time such a question appeared on the form was 1950. Since then, citizenship data have been gathered through surveys of a small sample of households.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in U.S. Department of Commerce vs. New York, a case challenging the citizenship question as “arbitrary and capricious.”

Based on the justices’ questions, it appears that the court’s conservative majority is prepared to back the administration’s plan, even though the Census Bureau’s own statisticians project that as many as 6.5 million people could go uncounted if the question is allowed.

The high court is expected to decide by late June, just as census forms are to be printed.

Esperanza Guevara, 29, a graduate of Stanford University, has experienced the census challenges firsthand. She recently became the census campaign manager for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, or CHIRLA, in Los Angeles, part of a coalition that launched a get-out-the-count campaign on Monday.

Guevara’s parents immigrated to California more than 30 years ago and eventually became naturalized citizens, but they have never participated in a census. “It took me getting this job and having a conversation with my mom for her to learn about this for the first time,” Guevara said.

California has already earmarked $100.3 million for census outreach, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed that an additional $54 million be allocated. On a per-person basis, California is investing more than any other state to get out the count, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento.

Many factors conspire to make California the nation’s hardest-to-count state. They include the high immigrant population, many residents’ limited English proficiency, the high number of renters and multiple-family households with children 5 and younger, homeless people, couch surfers and those with limited access to technology. For the first time, this census is expected to be conducted, for the most part, electronically.

The high stakes and California’s notoriously hard-to-count citizenry have propelled dozens of grassroots, municipal and statewide organizations to brainstorm strategies.

The California Complete Count Committee is an advisory panel of 26 members appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators. Similar organizations exist in counties, cities and regions including the Central Valley and the Inland Empire.

Using funds from the state or philanthropic organizations, groups are plotting multiple outreach efforts. In rural areas of California, the Communities for a New California Education Fund—a civil-rights organization with offices in Sacramento, Fresno, Merced and here in the Coachella Valley—plans to send teams door to door and to run phone banks. Language will be an issue for volunteers and staff members. The San Joaquin Valley, where many of the efforts will be concentrated, has migrants who speak Spanish, Hmong, Punjabi and indigenous languages of Central America.

All of these programs are intended to spread the word that “by filling out the form, you are representing your community,” said Diana Crofts-Pelayo, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based California Complete Count-Census 2020, which is coordinating the census outreach strategy. “Waiting for 10 years from now isn’t an option.”

The state complete count organization is partnering with county offices of education, tribal governments and regional community-based organizations to encourage people to participate.

Other groups will pass out census information to families who visit social-service agencies, hold town halls and sponsor mobile centers where people will be able to complete the census online.

Cindy Quezada, director of research and special projects with the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, has held meetings in community centers, day care centers and people’s apartments. “If you speak to people and help them understand (the importance of participating), they get it,” she said. “The inclusion of the citizenship question will be a big deterrent.”

In the Los Angeles region, the Census Bureau plans to gather data from homeless-service providers and provide explicit instructions in mailed materials about including young children. Digital advertising will be enlisted to get the attention of renters.

Lisa Hershey serves on the California Complete Count Committee. “We have so many boots on the ground right now … (because) we want to identify where people might live,” said Hershey, executive director of Housing California, a Sacramento nonprofit group that seeks to find housing for all Californians. In some areas, she said, properties might house several families, living in garages, tents or trailers—knowledge that must be gained from on-site visits.

Edward Kissam, a longtime researcher on immigrant issues and a trustee of the WKF Charitable Giving Fund, which supports immigrant integration initiatives, said the addition of the citizenship question would put pressure on the Census Bureau to hire enumerators who could interact “culturally and linguistically” with reluctant households.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of political science and public policy at UC Riverside who is directing the complete count committee for San Bernardino and Riverside counties, expressed dismay that the high court appeared to be leaning toward approving the citizenship query.

“The Supreme Court appears to be weighing in on the constitutionality of the policy, not the wisdom,” said Ramakrishnan, who is also founding director of the university’s Center for Social Innovation.

If the high court allows the question, the next move would be up to Congress, he added.

“The House could play hardball with the administration and say: ‘We will not give another dime for the 2020 census until you take that question away,’” he said.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

A day after the Trump administration sued California over its new “sanctuary” laws, state officials pushed back hard, with Gov. Jerry Brown calling the move tantamount to “war.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the lawsuit, which he filed late Tuesday, at a police event near the Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday. He said California leaders were scoring political points on the backs of law enforcement with immigration policies that hinder federal agents’ ability to enforce U.S. law.

“We’re simply asking the state and other sanctuary jurisdictions to stop actively obstructing federal law enforcement,” Sessions said as hundreds of protesters shouted outside. “Stop treating immigration agents differently from everybody else for the purpose of eviscerating border and immigration laws, and advancing an open-borders philosophy shared by only a few, the most radical extremists.”

Sessions accused local and state elected officials, including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, of promoting an extreme agenda to frustrate federal agents. Becerra, a Brown appointee, is running for election this year, as is Schaaf.

At a joint press conference with Becerra after Sessions’ announcement, Brown said he does not believe in “open borders.” The laws being challenged in the suit were carefully crafted, he said, to balance the state’s right to manage public safety with federal authority to oversee immigration. He termed Sessions’ appearance a stunt.

“This is completely unprecedented, for the chief of law enforcement in the United States to come out here and engage in a political stunt, (and) make wild accusations, many of which are based on outright lies,” Brown said—unusually strong language for a governor who has largely been cautious in his criticism of the Trump administration.

“This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy. It’s not wise; it’s not right; and it will not stand,” Brown said.

Sessions’ visit is the latest political salvo between the Trump administration and California, whose Legislature has favored immigrant-friendly policies. Candidates for statewide office have been jockeying to position themselves as the best representative of the “resistance state.” Becerra has sued the administration more than two dozen times on a range of issues, including the president’s travel ban and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed those brought to the country illegally as minors to remain here on a temporary basis.

In his 20-minute speech, Sessions said Schaaf, who recently tipped off the public about an imminent immigration raid, “has been actively seeking to help illegal aliens avoid apprehension by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).” That has made the job of immigration agents more dangerous, he said—as outside protesters outside chanted, “Immigrants stay; Sessions go!”

“How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers to promote a radical open-border agenda,” said Sessions, who noted that the United States annually admits 1.1 million immigrants lawfully as permanent residents.

Within hours, Schaaf posted on Twitter that Oakland’s violent-crime rates have declined in the past five years, answering Sessions’ claim that crime generally is on the rise.

The U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit asks a federal court to strike down three state laws that, among other restrictions, require employers to keep information about their employees private without a court order; mandate inspections of immigration detention facilities; and bar local law enforcers from questioning people about their immigration status during routine interactions. The most contentious law does allow state officials to cooperate with federal agents when deportation is required for those who have committed any of 800 serious crimes.

Washington, D.C., will have to show that the state’s new laws infringe on its ability to enforce immigration rules, which may be hard to do, said Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis.

“Ultimately, I think the state is likely to win most, if not all, of the lawsuit,” Johnson said.

Sessions said the sanctuary laws were designed to frustrate federal authorities. “Just imagine if a state passed a law forbidding employers from cooperating with OSHA in ensuring workplace safety, or the Environmental Protection Agency for looking out for polluters. Would you pass a law to do that?”

Sessions singled out Becerra, California’s top prosecutor, for threatening to fine business owners up to $10,000 if they cooperate with ICE agents. Becerra, who delivered a private address to the police group Wednesday, said at the press conference that “California has exercised its rights to define the circumstance where state and local law enforcement may participate in immigration enforcement.

“California is in the business of public safety. We’re not in the business of deportations,” he added, repeating statements he made Tuesday evening in the wake of the federal government’s filing. “I look forward to making these arguments in court.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who is running for governor, had praised Schaaf for her warning, a move Sessions said was “an embarrassment to the proud state of California.”

In a Facebook post, Newsom responded: “Jeff Sessions called me an ‘embarrassment’ today. Coming from him, I take that as a compliment. But words don't mean much when you and your family's livelihoods are on the line.”

Some other candidates for statewide office were quick to offer their views on the lawsuit. State Senate leader Kevin De León, who is challenging Dianne Feinstein for her U.S. Senate seat and wrote one of the laws at issue, told reporters the suit is retribution against a state that resoundingly rejected Trump on Election Day.

“From Day 1, California has been in the crosshairs of this president,” he said. “We are on solid constitutional legal ground, so we welcome this lawsuit.”

Labor unions and immigration-rights organizations, meanwhile, decried Sessions’ announcement. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights said Washington was sowing “deception and fear mongering” to push an anti-immigrant agenda.

CALmatters reporters Laurel Rosenhall and Elizabeth Aguilera contributed to this report. CALmatters.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics