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What Activists Are Doing To Encourage Immigrants To Stand Up And Be Counted In Census


No matter how the battle over the citizenship question is resolved, some say that undocumented immigrants may already be afraid of participating in the 2020 Census. One of those people is Thomas Kennedy. He's the political director of the Florida Immigration Coalition. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

THOMAS KENNEDY: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Can you just start by telling me or walk me through why someone would be afraid to participate in the census that doesn't have this citizenship question. What would be the problem?

KENNEDY: Historically speaking, our community, the immigrant community, has always been afraid of putting their name on a list, particularly the undocumented community. But when you add the added climate of fear that is taking place under the Trump administration - you know, when you turn on the TV and you see these kids being held under deplorable conditions in these detention camps, concentration camps, when you see President Trump threaten to begin operations to remove millions of people and this constant threat of immigration raids - when the climate of fear is so heightened, of course people are going to be hesitant to put their name on any sort of list.

CORNISH: You know, you use the term concentration camps. We were hearing a lot of that from progressive activists. But what is the language you're actually hearing from the people you work with? When they call, how do they express their worry?

KENNEDY: This is something that we - and not just us but immigrant rights organizations have been having conversations with people in our community. And of course people are afraid. They've always been afraid. And when we have these conversations, of course people are telling us that, you know, they're apprehensive about participating. But it's our job as community organizations and American rights organizations to make sure that they feel comfortable and supported in participating because it is important to participate, and our community needs to participate.

CORNISH: Is this something that's even top of mind?

KENNEDY: Absolutely. This is something that's very, very prominent in the minds of immigration organizations and immigrant rights organizations because the census means both political representation and resources for our communities - for our schools, infrastructure, hospitals. You name it.

CORNISH: We're also hearing advocates argue that even immigrants who are here in the country legally might not want to fill out the census. Why?

KENNEDY: Same thing - people are nervous about their status. Even legal, permanent residents are nervous. You know, our organization, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, does naturalization clinics where we help legal, permanent residents move to a permanent citizenship. And a lot of the people that come to our clinics tell us that they're doing it because they don't feel secure and safe from deportation as legal, permanent residents.

CORNISH: So what are next steps for you? How do you go forward, especially with this still being, in a sense, in play politically?

KENNEDY: Sure. So we are going to do what we do best, which is organize, reach out to the community and make sure that people are informed and prepare for the census. We are going to launch a large-scale phone bank operation calling hundreds of thousands of Floridians to take their temperature on how they're feeling about the census but also to educate them and inform them of the situation and encourage them to participate.

We're also going to be doing door-to-door and site-based canvassing to talk to people directly one-on-one about the census. And we're going to be holding community events to educate the community about the census as well. Through those methods, we are hoping to reach hard-to-count communities and encourage them to participate.

CORNISH: That's Thomas Kennedy, political director of the Florida Immigration Coalition. Thank you for speaking with us.

KENNEDY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.