Madison and Dane County Complete Count Committees
Hidden Barriers to a Complete Count
|(Clockwise from top) Mario Sierra Garcia, Brenda Yang, and
And the present political climate that fosters anti-immigrant feelings and policies could exacerbate the difficulties with getting a full Census count.
“There is the announcement by the Trump Administration that they will send Border Patrol personnel to sanctuary cities is one thing,” Sierra Garcia said. “We have a
Supreme Court decision pending on the future of DACA. So far, people are afraid the Supreme Court will rule in favor of Trump again. And the future of the people
who gave their information to the federal government is unclear and people are feeling nervous about that situation.”
“There are many issues that specifically affect the Latinx community, but also many people who are immigrants to this community and have been here for a long
time,” Gonzalez emphasized. “It’s not just new immigrants, but certainly people who are connected to other countries. That’s where the mistrust of government
begins. And then when you come to this country, you are not quite sure if you are completely welcome, especially with the current political environment, it has been
a little complicated, to say the least in terms of understanding if you are okay with sharing even the fact that you are here and that your family is here. It’s
complicated in figuring out how to trust and saying that you want to be counted. When someone is telling you that the information is confidential, who do you trust
when also at the same time you hear that you are not necessarily welcome.”
Just as there is concern that the information that young people gave the federal government for their DACA applications will be used against them if DACA is ended,
so too, immigrants may be concerned that Census information may be used against them.
“The other piece that I didn’t actually know is the way you are counted is through your address and the number of people who live in that particular household, not
necessarily your name,” Gonzalez said. “It is so important that we recognize that although of course information is known about your address and the number of
people who live in your household, that is not going to be put with any other information about identity.”
During ICE raids in Wisconsin a couple of years ago, ICE agents were known to misrepresent themselves when trying to gain entry into homes where they were told
undocumented immigrants were staying. Will it happen again with the Census?
“According to information that we have received, it hasn’t been determined whether or not ICE agents can pose as Census workers to gain access to people’s
homes,” Gonzalez said. “I’m hoping that before the process starts on April 1, we are going to be able to answer those questions very directly. I think it is important
for anyone in our community who does not feel safe to make sure they are asking those questions. You should go to your trusted sources, the organizations and
leaders in the community whom you know to ask for additional information about whether or not that is a possibility. Hopefully we will have a confirmation if that is
possible. I asked the governor’s office if we could have additional information about that and the identification those workers should provide when they come to
your door. If a community does not feel safe, make sure that is a priority, that we’re not going to add additional stress because you are not feeling comfortable and
safe. It is important that if that is something you are not opening your door for that Census worker, you still find a way to be able to come to your trusted source, to
your friend, to your organization that are connected with, to your school district and to other locations that you trust and have done that for many years, to be able to
say, ‘But I do want to be counted. Can you help me? I don’t want to open my door at my house. Is there another way I can be counted?’”
Sierra Garcia talked about the importance of engaging organizations like Centro Hispano and Voces de la Frontera in the process to give undocumented residents
alternatives to answering the door.
“We have told people a lot of times to make sure that they don’t open the door to people whom you are not expecting,” Sierra Garcia said. “If we have people
knocking on doors, they might not get an answer. Or if they do, there won’t be much trust there to really provide the information that the Census is seeking. Again,
that’s why the role of Centro and other groups is important because we can make sure that more people know about this and they are telling their community
members to do it. The Latino, to a large extent, operates in trust. If my neighbor tells me that I should do that, then I am more able to believe the ad that I saw on TV
about the Census. So we want those positive stories of people connecting with their friends and family members about why it is so important to participate in this
Gonzalez emphasized the importance for everyone to be counted regardless of their background.
“It doesn’t matter if you are documented or undocumented,” Gonzalez stressed. “You ought to be counted. You have to make sure that your voice is heard. We’re not
going to use that information in any other way than just making sure we know how many people we have in our area and community, so we can have the support for
different services that are important to many communities. Some of the programs deal with housing and education programs. You will receive information in the
mail telling you step by step what to expect and the information that you can access online. If there is a knock on your door from a census worker, they will have an
ID. You will be able to identify them. And make sure that you ask for that information if you are on the other side of the door. What questions do you need to ask of that
person who is coming to your door to get your information?”
The Census count impacts everyone no matter what their background. It is important to stand up and be counted.
By Jonathan Gramling
Editor’s Note: In this two-part story, The Hues will look at the hidden barriers to a complete
2020 Census count the Latino, Hmong and other immigrant communities. This issue: the Latino
Brenda Gonzalez, vice chair of the City of Madison 2020 Complete Count Committee, is an
immigrant from Mexico, although she has spent most of her life living in the United States and
is active in the Madison community, especially as director of community relations for UW-
Madison. In her community work for over 25 years, she has heard the tales of many immigrant
people and the complex relationship they may have with government. For many, their home
governments have been sources of corruption and repression and in some cases genocide.
“Mistrust of government from their home countries can linger,” Gonzalez said. “The idea that
you are immigrating to a safe place or a safe country carries a lot of weight. You are bringing
yourself and your family to a safe country or community. And then it is difficult to think that you
are thinking about something in the past that isn’t necessarily in the past and are now thinking
about the historical trauma and now we have to make sure that we understand it, so we can
heal it, so we can move forward. It seems easier said than done. But how to continue to bring
information to may perhaps not have the same access to all of the information or in the same
language. I am so happy to report that the city of Madison with the amazing support we are
receiving from Mayor Satya has brought together a committee, the Complete Census
Committee that brings information about the census, process and commitment to different
committees and different languages. I think that is going to carry a lot of weight for many
communities that feel that maybe they are not included at some of the tables where decisions
are being made.”
Sometimes, immigrant people’s understanding of government can be monolithic, not
distinguishing between the different levels of government.
“All of the lines in government get blurry,” said Mario Sierra Garcia, an immigrant from
Guatemala who is on the board of Centro Hispano and active in Voces de la Frontera. “For
example, sometimes it’s the same as with law enforcement. It’s hard to distinguish for people.
Sometimes, all law enforcement is put in the same category. And it can be the same with
Census workers who represent the government.”