Monday, February 24, 2020




          Because the U.S. Supreme Court essentially laughed President Trump’s arguments for a citizenship question out of its courtroom last summer, the start of America’s once-a-decade official head count at the beginning of next month will be far from an April Fool’s joke.

          Once the Census Bureau begins mailing out questionnaires, sending operatives to knock on doors and puts its forms on the Internet, much of California’s fate will be in the hands of its people, residents of every size, shape, color, belief and ethnicity.

          If we want our schools fully funded, if we want our roads and infrastructure properly maintained and rebuilt, if we want the significant voice we deserve in both public policy and the Electoral College, it will be up to us to make sure we get counted.

          For awhile, it appeared that Trump’s administration might insert a citizenship question among the standard queries to be answered by almost everyone who gets counted. But Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee of ex-President George W. Bush, became disgusted last July with lies told by Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, as he tried to explain why a citizenship question should be used for the first time in 70 years.

          Ross said the question was needed to fully enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, an absurd claim since that law has never been enforced under Trump. Roberts wrote that this falsehood demanded he cast a rare vote with the high court’s four-member liberal minority and that deep-sixed the question.

          This was a vital issue for California and other states with large numbers of undocumented persons because long experience and every Census expert indicated that including the question would encourage many unauthorized residents to evade getting counted at all costs.

          Now they have no reason to avoid answering questions, since it will be impossible to identify non-citizens if immigration authorities somehow get hold of Census forms despite laws forbidding it.

          Such compartmentalizing is needed to assure that the constitutional purpose of the Census is carried out: counting every human being in the country, citizen or not.

          Representation in Congress and the Electoral College hinges on that count. So does distribution of myriad types of federal grants and other funding.

          This still does not assure it will be easy to count everyone. For example, there is California’s homeless populace of at least 150,000 persons, counted in an unofficial canvass every January. There are also under-the-radar undocumented immigrants who often share motel rooms and other transient quarters.

          Altogether, the Seattle-based Marguerite Casey Foundation estimates California has more than 15 million persons classed as hard to count. To see that its interests are properly served, the state in 2018 budgeted $187 million to get everyone here tallied.

          Some of that money went to private organizations now reaching out to folks they serve.

          “Our goal is to reach 2.7 million people (in the Los Angeles area),” said Esperanza Guevara, coordinator of the Census campaign about to start from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, which also tries to get health care and other services for the undocumented.

          “We’ve developed a comprehensive campaign in our Latino, refugee and limited English communities to (give them) the support and resources to understand these forms,” she added.

          And Thomas Saenz, president of the activist Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told his group’s affiliates that “Information about immigration status will not be asked of anyone… In fact, the easiest way to avoid further contact from the Census Bureau is to fill out the form completely at the start of the process.”

          One message many such outfits will be circulating widely: It is illegal to use information on Census forms in immigration enforcement. Violating this confidentiality carries criminal penalties up to $250,000 and five years in jail per incident.

          It’s still unknown whether all this will be enough to ensure the full count California needs in order to get its fair share of money and representation.

          But for sure, the Trump administration’s initial efforts to skew the count have been thwarted, leaving much of this state’s fate in the hands of its residents. All of us.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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