Immigrants’ fear of government could skew 2020 Census

MGN Online

At stake are vital federal resources

If you think immigration concerns are only for immigrants and the census is moot, Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins’ monthly gathering of community voices, which convened last Friday, November 1, offered reasons to think again. “Afternoons with Andrea: Immigration and Census 2020 Update” illuminated the issue’s far-reaching impact and how keeping track of the country’s population can be exploited to target segments of that population. And what can be done about it.

Jenkins was joined by City’s Complete Count Coordinator Alberder Gillespie; director of Immigrant Refugee Affairs (OIRA) Michelle Rivero; Black Immigrant Collective’s Julia Nekessa Opoti; and The City’s Creative City Making on the Census 2020 partners Rox Anderson and Anna Meyer.

Jenkins is the lead member of the city council for census work. “Minneapolis,” she noted, “has been considered a ‘sanctuary city.’ We hear this term in the national media and from the federal government.” Then she asked Michelle Rivero just what that is.

Rivero responded, “[It’s] a municipality where law enforcement functions are decoupled from immigration enforcement. That is the essential definer. We’ve gone beyond that in decoupling and providing support to immigrant and refugee communities.”  This includes OIRA serving as “a one-stop-shop for community to access the City and understand what resources exist.”

There are, of course, ways around the law, something of a common practice in this presidential administration. Gillespie commented, “[The census] is a federal operation. The City can’t prevent ICE pretending to be enumerators. That’s a very real concern.”

For instance, while it’s illegal for a citizen to impersonate a census taker, ICE is allowed to do so. Accordingly, she noted the creation of “trusted spaces and places,” what amounts to a network of safe-houses.

“We’re partnering with churches to have Census Sundays, partnering with mosques and centers where people can come in and safely complete census forms.” Since you can list your address as wherever you filled out the form, ICE can’t find your door and come knocking, empowered to haul people off at large with no questions asked.

Nekessa Opoti pointed out, “Anytime something happens, the whole country runs to California and the Texas border. Right here in Minnesota are centers holding folks, specifically a lot of Somalians, Liberians and other Africans, Caribbean folks, folks from Haiti.” She added, “Asians, especially Southeast Asians, face the same policing and profiling.”

Opoti told MSR, “The census is happening, right? Immigrant folks, particularly those I work with, have fear of the government. So, they don’t trust to open their door for enumerators.

“It’s important to address how people get counted. [Their] resources are important, whether they are documented or not.” She underscored the event’s value in confronting selective law enforcement.

“Every time we talk about immigration, it’s also important to talk about police accountability and ICE, how they interact with communities. Black immigrants are hyper-surveilled, just as any Black person in the U.S. is. Those interactions impact whether people will engage with government agencies.”

Submitted photo (l-r) Council VP Andrea Jenkins, Nekessa Opoti, Rox Anderson, Anna Meyer, Michelle Rivero and Alberder Gillespie

In the Q and A session, Beth, a Hennepin County Central Branch librarian, suggested the public utilize the public library. “With [the concern] of having a safe place to go, gather, and access the internet, it would be the library.”

There are 41 branches with banks of computers accessible, she noted, “even you don’t have a card or ID. Information is kept private.

Jenkins responded, “That is an awesome opportunity.”

Also from the floor came the idea of partying, having a good time doing some good. Gillespie agreed, citing an age-old grassroots institution, the house party, utilized to raise rent or bail money and a viable venue for getting together to go online.

“Be creative as you want,” Gillespie said. “It’s about what is going to work for our communities. [They] determine how we do this.”

She added that grants are available to do this work. The Department of Commerce Appropriations Act authorizes the U.S. Census Bureau to award cooperative agreements to appropriate entities to aid and promote statistical, research and methodology activities.

Jenkins emphasized the importance of being counted. “The stakes are too high. The benefits of having a full count [of one’s community] is to ensure resources for our roads, schools, public housing, jobs, representation.”

She brought to light a practice of misrepresentation that has all the earmarks of lawfully rigged, institutionalized racism. “One interesting thing about how the census impacts communities of color [is that] incarcerated people are counted where they live. Typically, unfortunately, most come from inner-city urban areas, but their census numbers are counted in rural communities where the prisons are.

Consequently, Jenkins pointed out, resources that would come to urban areas go to rural communities instead, leaving urban Minnesota, already struggling for social progress, further disenfranchised.

Since men, it stands to reason, have as much on the line as women, why was this an all-female forum? Jenkins told the MSR, “These are the people who are doing the work. It is what it is.” Men weren’t left out. It’s simply that women stepped up, which doesn’t mean men can’t follow these leaders, plugging into activist organizations and networks.

What practical difference does she expect this event to make? “Realistically speaking, this raises awareness of the importance of the census [and] creative ways to help immigrants better understand the census.” She referenced WeCount!, which empowers the immigrant communities through leadership development, community education, coalition building, and campaigns for social change.

“I think [this event] will lead to some creative opportunities to have a complete census count.”

Afternoons with Andrea is a monthly gathering at various spots in the Ward 8 district of Minneapolis. The public is welcome, free of charge. For more info, visit the Ward 8 Council Facebook page or sign up for the Ward 8 e-newsletter.