The City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to monitor the upcoming US Census in Pasadena for potential breaches of confidentiality – hoping to reassure immigrants and other traditionally “hard to count” community members that participating in the once-a-decade count is “safe.”
The census officially starts in California on April 1.
“Unfortunately, there is a general mistrust of government among various groups of citizens and non-citizens in the immigrant community, as well as other hard to count community members, that may make it difficult to ensure a full count of Pasadena residents,’’ according to a staff report from Mayor Terry Tornek to council members prior to the vote.
The resolution spells out three general areas of focus for the council:
To monitor for any breach of census data confidentiality, to use the City Council’s collective power and influence to prevent, block, and/or bring an end to any breach of the currently established guarantee and understanding of the confidentiality of data collected as part of the 2020 census and to emphasize publicly the critical importance of continued census safety and security.”
Specifically under the resolution, “the City Council is affirming its commitment to use transparency, publicity, investigation, and/or litigation to challenge any breach or threatened breach in order to ensure that all Pasadena residents can remain assured that personally identifiable census data will not be misused and will remain confidential as required by Title 13 protections.’’
The move grew out of a suggestion from Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, made at the Feb. 10 council meeting.
Alvarado was in the council chambers of City Hall again on Monday night, and he showed several Spanish-language videos produced by his organization that reiterated the message delivered by the council’s resolution.
Alvarado said the videos will be used on various platforms, including social media, in the coming weeks. City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris said the videos would also be posted on the city’s special census website, cityofpasadena.net/census/.
“We’ve just got to make sure everybody gets counted,” the mayor told Pasadena Now following Monday night’s meeting.
“It has profound implications. … It has to do with the [federal] money that we get, it has to do with representation that we get. We could lose a Congressional seat,” Tornek said. “We use that census information for 10 years, and we use it for our own city [for] redistricting [as well].
“So if we are undercounting, it ripples through the whole system in a kind of cumulative way, and from a social-justice point of view, we have to make sure that everybody gets a chance to be counted – it’s one of the constitutional imperatives. You know, it’s a pretty simple thing – count everybody that’s living in the country. And if the government can’t even deliver on a sort of basic constitutional imperative, then it erodes confidence in everything.’’
Tornek’s “mistrust” language grows out of a view in many communities that the Trump Administration, widely perceived as anti-immigrant, would use the census as a weapon against undocumented residents. Those fears grew when the administration originally proposed including the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” on the census.
The matter reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled, 5-4, that while the government has the right to ask such a question, it needs to justify its inclusion on the census. Chief Justice John Roberts said there was sufficient reason for concern about why the question would be included.
It’s not the first time the council has expressed concerns about a possible undercount in the upcoming census.
At its Jan. 27 meeting, the council passed a resolution accepting a $73,895 grant for Census 2020 education and outreach activities related to the census.
As Pasadena Now reported at the time, the grant is given by the county as an incentive for jurisdictions classified as having geographic areas and demographic populations that are “least likely to respond” or “hard-to-count.”
“The primary and perpetual challenge facing the U.S. Census Bureau is the undercount of certain population groups,” Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian, a member of the city’s Census Planning Team, said in January.
“That challenge is amplified in California, where more residents are considered traditionally hard to count. Those include foreign-born residents, renters, individuals living in homes without a broadband subscription, people living close to or below the poverty line, and children younger than 5 years old. An accurate count is one in which every person is counted once, only once, and in the right place,” Derderian added.
The city’s census team was formed over what Tornek previously called a “strong possibility” of an undercount.
The census consists of nine basic demographic questions: who lives in the household; how they are related; their age, sex, and race; whether they own or rent their house; and their phone number.
Nationwide, the census is used to determine allocations for some $900 billion in federal funding for schools, roads and other services.
By April 1, every household in the U.S. is expected to receive invitations to participate. Answers can be provided online, by phone, by mail, or in person.
Pasadena Now’s Donovan McCray contributed to this report.