Inaccurate 2020 census report could lead to loss of funding for state, Lynn

From left, MST Sadia Afroz, her daughter Mariem Afroz and her sister Sahina Akter listen to speakers at the North Shore Muslim Speaker Series event at Breed Middle School. (Olivia Falcigno)

LYNN — Cities such as Lynn risk being underfunded for critical resources such as public education and transportation if census population data is reported incorrectly. 

One of the biggest barriers for Census 2020 is that undocumented immigrants may be afraid to report themselves, even though they are protected by federal laws that prohibits disclosing census information, said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA). 

There are about 1.5 million immigrants and refugees living in Massachusetts and it’s important to reach every one of them so there’s a proper count in the census, said Millona. 

“This is one of the most challenging times for the census,” she said, referring to today’s political climate in terms of what she called the Trump administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

Millona delivered her remarks at a speaker series at Breed Middle School Sunday evening that focused on Census 2020. The forum was presented by the Nazda Alam Foundation for Muslim Women Civic Engagement & Leadership — an organization aimed at supporting Muslim women’s participation locally and globally in social and political processes. 

William F. Galvin, Massachusetts Secretary of State, said a proper census count was crucial because those numbers will be used for the next decade, and will affect how approximately $900 billion in annual federal funding will be allocated across the country for roads, public transportation, education and public health. 

If there are potentially 1.5 million immigrants and refugees who are hard to reach and may not be properly counted in the state, that could result in billions of dollars of federal funding being lost to Massachusetts, Millona said. 

For each person not counted, communities could miss out on $2,400 of federal funding, which means that low-income urban communities like Lynn, with a high immigrant population, could be at high risk for underfunding, Millona said. 

“Whatever country people come from, the one thing you can be sure of is (that) they’re going to put their kids in school because the ultimate goal for each person who comes here is for a better life for their children,” said Galvin. “The message to immigrants is if you really want a good education for your kids, you have to answer the census.”

But the aforementioned barrier, the feeling of fear, was clear at the event. One man, who identified himself as an undocumented immigrant, asked if the census data was going to be passed onto the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

“We have to overcome the fear,” said Galvin. “It’s against federal law to share the information with anyone. It is simply for the purpose of the count.”

Federal laws protect census confidentiality. It’s illegal for the census bureau to disclose responses in a way that would identify an individual, or for data collected by the census to be used for any non-statistical purpose, such as immigration regulation or other law enforcement, according to a document prepared by the Brennan Center for Justice. 

What may have exacerbated that fear is the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to Census 2020, which Galvin called an attempt to sabotage the census. 

The effort was blocked, for now, by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, with the court ruling that it violated federal law. Despite the decision, the anxiety of the undocumented remains high, in terms of fearing detainment and arrests, Galvin said.

Census questionnaires go out on April 1 and will be followed by additional awareness events by the state.

Mayor Thomas M. McGee said at the event that completing the census is important to the city of Lynn and a big part of civic engagement.

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