Fear Remains a Barrier for Minority Participation in US Census, Say Faith Leaders

A Census 2020 form is seen Jan. 21, 2020, in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

WASHINGTON (RNS) — As the once-a-decade count of Americans nears, U.S. Census Bureau officials brought faith leaders together to talk about their role in getting congregants across the country to participate.

“You are your community’s most trusted voice,” Steven Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, told about 100 leaders gathered Tuesday (Feb. 18) for the bureau’s interfaith summit in an auditorium of the Washington National Cathedral.

“We appreciate your help in delivering our message to your congregations and assuring them that the 2020 census is easy, it is safe and it is important to their community and our nation.”

But, while speakers from a range of faiths cited numerous ways they are working to encourage participation in the count that officially starts April 1, issues of trust and safety were exactly what were on the minds of some of the attendees.

Pastor John Zayas participates in the 2020 Census
Interfaith Summit on Feb. 18, 2020, at Washington
National Cathedral. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Pastor John Zayas of Chicago voiced concerns about threats by the Trump administration to sanctuary cities, including the presence last summer of armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in his city.

“Do we have a guarantee from the administration, from the department, that our information doesn’t go to those places?” he asked. “Because there’s legitimate fear here.”

The Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, responded, saying congregations, like his in Florida, need to become “safe spaces.” Some members of Calvario City Church in Orlando, where he is the senior associate pastor, have been certified by the Census Bureau as onsite trainers who can assist people in responding to the census online.

“I think we have to acknowledge the fear,” said Salguero in response to Zayas’ question. “And then I think the question is: And then what? If there’s fear, what are the antidotes to that fear?”

Census Bureau officials pointed out that Title 13 of the U.S. Code notes the bureau cannot release identifiable information to law enforcement.

Panelists discuss issues during the 2020 Census Interfaith Summit on Feb. 18, 2020, at Washington National Cathedral. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

But the Rev. Nelson Rivers III, an officer of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said “to be paranoid is a natural response to being black and brown in this country.” He noted the government is run by a different administration than it was in 2010, when the last census was taken.

“I’m from a community that realizes the policy depends on who’s enforcing it,” said Rivers, NAN’s vice president of religious affairs and external relations. “Right now, we have a guy who’s demonstrated that the law doesn’t mean jack to him.”

In response to Rivers, Dillingham stood up along with other Census Bureau executives and spoke of the bureau’s track record.

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Source: Religion News Service