A U.S. Census Bureau move to eliminate bi-lingual paper forms could lead to an undercount in the Asian and Russian communities and threaten federal funding for crucial local services, city officials said at a rally Wednesday.
Printed questionnaires will still be available in Spanish, according to the Census Bureau. However, the agency plans to eliminate the printed forms in languages including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian, in favor of online questionnaires and “telephonic support” in 12 non-English languages.
The elimination of the paper forms could exclude a number of immigrant communities from participating due to the digital divide, and disproportionately affects low-income and elderly San Franciscans, according to immigrant rights groups.
“For the over 300,000 San Franciscans who lack access to smartphones and digital tools, high-speed technology, who face language and physical barriers and who are fearful and distrustful of the government, the census will be intimidating and difficult,” said Adrienne Pon, executive director of the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs (OCEIA).
At risk is a “loss of congressional representation” as well as “$6 billion in federal dollars over the next decade for central programs and services in San Francisco,” according to Pon.
She announced that OCEIA will be spearheading local outreach efforts, including a San Francisco 2020 census count outreach and education campaign planned for October 6.
Some 109,000 people across San Francisco could be “negatively impacted” by the Census Bureau’s decision, according to Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who at Wednesday’s rally estimated that 11,000 people would be affected in her district alone.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin called the decision yet another “racist trick” by the Trump Administration to stifle immigrant participation. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump unsuccessfully attempted to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, which placed non-citizen participation in the count at risk.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution calling on Congressional leaders to demand that the Census Bureau make non-English paper questionnaires available for language groups that “meet the threshold of 100,000 or more households in the United States.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is expected to vote on a similar resolution on Wednesday evening.
The Census Bureau previously employed a threshold of “greater than 100,000 households” in the United States to determine the availability on non-English language support in the Census count, but has lowered that threshold to “greater than 60,000 households” and expanded language availability of the digital census survey, according to the advocacy group Chinese for Affirmative Action.
According to the resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors, the Census Bureau eliminated the questionnaires despite some $1.2 billion in unspent funds currently allocated towards “Questionnaire Assistance Centers,” indicating that the agency could reverse its decision.
Assembly member David Chiu on Wednesday promised to support efforts to reverse what he described as “a diabolical way of under counting our populations” by the Trump administration.
Chiu said that he is working to ensure that the state provide funding for local outreach efforts ahead of the census, adding that the decision to eliminate the paper questionnaires for certain populations was unpopular among Democrats and Republicans alike.
“I have [Asian Ameerican and Pacific Islander] Republican colleagues concerned about the fact that we potentially could see undercounted Asian immigrant communities, Russian Califoranian communities and others in the state of California,” he said.