Amidst the current public health crisis, it is easy to forget that 2020 was supposed to be an important year for a very different reason: the U.S. Census.
For Arizona, the census is expected to bring glad tidings, as the state experienced the third-highest level of population growth overall in the United States in 2019. While this should mean an increase in much-needed federal funding to the state, majority Latino border communities are at risk of being left out of these potential resources due to limited outreach and repeated threats to a full count of undocumented immigrant communities.
Census data is crucial in deciding how much federal funding is apportioned to each state, county, and municipality in the United States, as well as determining how much representation Arizona gets in the House of Representatives. The census is hardly a perfect tool, however, and its inadequacies disproportionately affect border towns and Latino communities.
Though the census questionnaire is available in several different languages online, including Spanish, many of the mailed materials aren’t so inclusive. In my household, much of the paperwork we’ve received in the mail is in English only. In communities where nearly 95 percent of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, this is simply unacceptable.
Furthermore, much of the controversy surrounding a “citizenship question” (which the Supreme Court struck down as a violation of the law) only served to further alienate and intimidate our country’s immigrant population. President Trump’s recent memo seeking to bar undocumented immigrants from being considered in census numbers used to divide up congressional seats is yet another effort to manipulate the census, and disenfranchise immigrant communities.
And of course, census data is not a good measurement tool in communities where so many people come and go as a part of their day-to-day routine. The children who attend our schools but live across the border aren’t being counted. The people who work here but live in Mexico aren’t being counted. The thousands of folks who use our infrastructure while passing through aren’t being counted. Where are the resources for them?
These questions become even more urgent when you consider the actual population size of our border communities. Despite Arizona’s general growth trends, many of our border cities and towns have experienced slow growth, and even population decline over the past several decades. A quick look at census projections indicates that of the six Arizona border communities with an international port of entry, three have a very small population to begin with, and two – Nogales and Douglas – are facing population decline.
This is not news to border residents; indeed, municipalities like Nogales and Douglas have been struggling for years to address the problems caused by population decline. In Santa Cruz County, the Nogales and Santa Cruz Valley unified school districts have faced budget cuts due to decreases in student enrollment, a trend which is likely to continue into the future.
We must demand more from our elected officials and our government; accepting underrepresentation is not an option, especially not during an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions and uncertain length. And while connecting with elected officials and organizing the community is more difficult than it has been in the past, know that helping your community can be as easy as filling out your census form.
(Lara-Garcia is a senior studying political science at the University of Arizona and a resident of Nogales. She is a 2020 Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) College Leadership Program cohort member.)