HYATTSVILLE – Prince George’s County Councilmember Deni Taveras (D-2) stood in front of future canvassers and local leaders on Jan. 23 to make a plea: make sure everyone is counted.
As she swiftly transitioned between speaking English and Spanish, the second-year councilmember smacked her fist onto the podium after revealing the county lost $360 million after in federal funding being undercounted in the 2010 U.S. Census. Taveras made it clear that in order to get the proper funding for the county; its immigration population must be calculated.
“The reality of the situation is that this population has not been filling out its census,” Taveras said. “We lost 50%of this population, which is half of this room did not fill out their census, and the sad truth is we need to change that.”
Taveras joined immigrant advocacy group CASA as part of its Census 2020 outreach campaign launch event as canvassers begin walking door-to-door to talk to residents to fill out the survey.
The CASA outreach program is part of a three-state effort in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to assure that everyone gets counted by the census once the form is set out in April. Canvassers will go to people’s homes to have them sign the Census pledge while CASA will reach out weeks before to give a reminder that the census will be send to their homes shortly.
As part of their campaign, officials introduced Lucas, an animated character as the campaign’s spokesperson. Lucas represents a 13-year-old Latino boy that will be used in TV, radio, and digital ads as he persuades others to participate in the census.
The overall message to assure the immigrant community that providing information for the census is okay, even if you are undocumented. President Donald Trump attempted to have a citizenship question added on to the Census throughout 2019 but was ultimately told by Supreme Court in July that it could not be included.
However, the fact that the immigrant question was even proposed stocked a fear within the community that their information will be used for deportations. CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres called the use of the citizenship question “strategic” to dissuade the country’s immigrant population, mostly of Latinos, of not participating.
“I want to tell our community ‘do not be afraid,’” CASA Executive Director Gustavo Torres said. “The laws are very clear and very strong. We are not going to allow the federal government, the Trump administration, to do what they were planning to do.”
The state of Maryland funds CASA’s efforts, Torres said, making it more important to assure as many people are counted when the census starts on April 15. While being a part of the county’s effort, Taveras is joining up with CASA to make sure her district is counted. Currently, she is struggling to print out materials to pass out to residents and create advertisements to remind them to fill out the census.
“I have everything done, but I have to print it,” Taveras said. “I need money to print and to get poster boards in schools…the county has sent out mailers and that is all they can afford to do. For a million people, (Prince George’s) only received $250,000 (of federal funding). Our county is huge.”
In total, the county will have 40 events geared towards different populations and communities to get them to participate in the census. Meanwhile, municipalities like Brentwood, are looking for ways to engage their immigrant community to be a part of the process. Brentwood Mayor Rocio Treminio-Lopez said the town would open up its town chambers for people to fill out their census.
“We want to make sure that all the information we have is in Spanish for our residents,” Treminio-Lopez said. “If they don’t feel comfortable filling it out or having someone coming to their house, we will have people there or in schools or even pop-ups to make sure that everyone can fill the census out. The time is now.”
Lanham resident Melissa Cruz, 20, had helped CASA in the past with their canvassing efforts but felt it was essential to making sure she participated in the census outreach as well.
Her parents were immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador when they arrived in the United States and were originally “weary” on what the importance of the census.
Since Cruz began working in advocacy, she has been informing her parents about the services the country can provide to them while also helping them pass their citizenship exam.
“I always kept telling them the importance of this,” Cruz said. “I would tell them that this is not just for politics since they are not into politics. This is for your home, for schools, my sisters, and the roads.”
Using her personal experience, Cruz says she hopes she can clear up misconceptions about the census so more people complete the questionnaire and be counted.
“Even if you are not sure, we are still here to help for anything with it,” Cruz said. “People somethings are not sure because they are scared or have questions. And we are here to say that we are here to help you.”