California’s secretary of state claims the U.S. Census Bureau has not received any guarantees that immigration officials would not target undocumented immigrants at events that promote participation in the 2020 Census.
Alex Padilla, who is also the state’s chief elections official, told ThinkProgress he asked whether the Trump administration would target undocumented immigrants at such government-sponsored events during a June 4 meeting with Albert Fontenot, associate director of the bureau’s Decennial Census Programs.
According to Padilla, Fontenot told him that the bureau “had asked” but had not received any assurances. Padilla has since reached back out to the Census Bureau for answers in writing but has still not received a response.
“I never would have expected that I would have to ask the question because I don’t put anything past Trump to intimidate or scare people away from participating in the Census,” Padilla said.
“So I asked the question and sure enough they had thought about it and they inquired and they have not received any guarantees or assurances,” he added.
The Constitution requires the government to count all people living in the United States every 10 years — a survey that affects how congressional and legislative district maps are drawn and how billions of dollars in federal funds are divided.
But the Trump administration has been actively trying to discourage immigrant families and people of color from participating in the count, allegedly so that Republicans can gain an edge during the 2021 redistricting process.
Trump is expected to issue an order on Thursday requiring the Commerce Department to obtain citizenship data through other means, after the Supreme Court last month spiked the administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the Census. The question was expected to cause an undercount of 9 million people, affecting mostly black and Latinx communities, according to Census Bureau estimates. Documents have proven that the addition of the question was allegedly motivated by racism.
The Supreme Court called out the administration for lying about its desire to add the question to better enforce the Voting Rights Act and ruled that it needed better rationale.
“Trump and this administration seem to be working intentionally to discourage participation and underbidding our Constitutional rights,” Padilla said.
Matt Bourke, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson, told ThinkProgress in an email that “no such plans exist” to arrest undocumented immigrants at Census Bureau, state, or community sponsored Census participation-related events. However, Bourke declined comment when asked whether he could definitively state that immigration officials would not take such action.
“ICE does not conduct raids, sweeps or checkpoints. The agency conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy,” he said.
Census Bureau officials did not immediately respond to questions confirming that the meeting, as Padilla described, took place and if they have heard back from immigration officials since.
Padilla mentioned his conversation with Fontenot during a panel discussion at the progressive Netroots Nation conference in Philadelphia.
The panel, which also featured former Attorney General Eric Holder, Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, and Vanita Gupta, who runs the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, discussed why activists need to push participation in the 2020 Census to give fair representation in Congress and state legislatures.
The panel discussed other ways that the Trump administration is causing an undercount including rolling out, for the first time, an internet-based Census questionnaire while underfunding and understaffing the Census Bureau compared to previous years.