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2020 census language access change poses undercount risk

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U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census
U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census

The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census has made a decision to only mail 2020 census questionnaires printed in English and Spanish, opting to just collect data in 11 other languages online and by phone. The change is not sitting well with city and state officials and community organizations.

Hong Mei Pang, Chinese for Affirmative Action’s director of advocacy, said Wednesday at a press conference that the lack of language access to the census is a civil rights issue.

Pang said:

“In order for census 2020 to achieve a full and complete count, access must be fair and equal.”

Pang also said that digitizing the process will cause many of The City’s residents in monolingual communities to fall through the cracks.

Pang said:

“Without reliable access to internet, many limited English proficient communities will likely fall through the digital divide. This is especially the case in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, South of Market, Vis Valley, Chinatown and the Sunset District.”

The census bureau suggests people without access to a computer and the internet can complete the online census at their local library.

Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco and chair of the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, said he is prioritizing the need to ensure every California resident is counted.

Chiu said:

“This is an effort supported not just by Democrats throughout the country but also by Republicans. I have API Republicans colleagues who are concerned about the fact that we potentially could see undercounted Asian immigrant communities, Russian California communities, and others in the state of California.”

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday passed a resolution calling on the Census Bureau to provide non-English 2020 census paper forms in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer said the elimination of additional languages in paper forms is “incredibly offensive” and disregards non-English speaking communities.

Fewer said:

“A decision like this is likely to have an impact on the ability for us as a city to have an accurate count of all of our community members with a disproportionate impact on Chinese, Russian, Vietnamese, and Korean speaking communities.”

Fewer, who represents the Richmond District, said about one-third of the 80,000 residents in her district speak either Chinese or Russian at home and more than half are limited English proficient.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said the founders of the country wanted every single person counted without limitation for citizenship or language.

In a scathing statement directed at the president, Peskin said:

“Sorry Mr. Trump. The federal courts told you that you could not ask that question and now you’re trying to do another racist trick, which is to deny people the information that they need to participate in what the Constitution says is a fundamental obligation of the United States government.”

The City’s Office and Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs Executive Director Adrienne Pon said the change increases the risk of an undercount in San Francisco, which can have detrimental effects. Census information collected every 10 years determines how federal funds are allocated for services and programs, and helps determine congressional representation for each state.

Pon said The City is planning a 2020 census outreach and educational block party dubbed “SF Counts” near the Main Library on Oct. 6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

April 1, 2020 is Census Day. 

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