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In California, It Will Take More Than a Parade to Save an Imperiled Census

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  PERRIS, Calif. — For one day at least, as a 10-car parade of vehicles with honking horns, pompoms and signs reading “Get Counted” crawled through this predominantly Latino agricultural town about 70 miles east of Los Angeles on Friday, it was hard to forget that the 2020 census was going on and that it,

 

PERRIS, Calif. — For one day at least, as a 10-car parade of vehicles with honking horns, pompoms and signs reading “Get Counted” crawled through this predominantly Latino agricultural town about 70 miles east of Los Angeles on Friday, it was hard to forget that the 2020 census was going on and that it mattered.

Daniel Cordero, 63, a Mexican immigrant who shares a home with 15 people, including his wife, children and grandchildren, was just the kind of person that the event, billed as “Get Out the Count,” was intended to reach.

But as he stepped out of his kitchenware store on D Street in downtown Perris on Friday to observe the parade, he wasn’t quite sold. “We’re working so hard, we don’t have time to be filling out questionnaires,” he said.

“I haven’t filled it out,” he added. “I have never filled it out.” He took a flier from one of the volunteers, examining it like one of his customers contemplating his wares, and said that he might consider it. “It’d be the first time,” he said without much enthusiasm, before returning to work in his store stocked with pots, pans, brooms and other household items.

It has always been a challenge to get an accurate count of people in places like this dusty working-class town of 80,000 people, where about three quarters of the population is Hispanic, many of them immigrants. Throw in a pandemic and a cascade of messages from President Trump making many Latinos wary of the census, and the challenge grows exponentially.

But when the Census Bureau on Monday said it would lop off four weeks from the 10 it had allocated for a door-to-door count of the hardest to reach communities, the move added a new sense of urgency to efforts to reach farmworkers and undocumented immigrants in Perris as well as other communities with different challenges around the country. The situation is likely to be even worse in communities and states where there is less government involvement in the census and fewer organizations on the ground to press for participation.

“We have to keep dodging bullets to reach our community, and now we have limited time,” said Luz Gallegos, the director of TODEC Legal Center, an immigrant services provider that operates in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. “We are going to continue to push until the deadline.”

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The Census Bureau announced on Monday that it will halt counting on Sept. 30, four weeks earlier than planned, cutting short door-knocking, which begins nationwide on Aug. 11, and the time people have to submit responses online, over the phone and by mail.

In March, the Census Bureau sent out invitations by mail to people across the country asking them to respond to the 2020 census. Next week, after a delay in outreach because of the coronavirus, census workers will start knocking on doors of homes whose residents have not yet participated.

The numbers are enormously important, especially in a poor community in need of all available federal resources. The count is used to reapportion all 435 House seats and thousands of state and local districts, as well as to divvy up trillions of dollars in federal grants and aid.

Census officials say they can still do an accurate count with the new deadline. “We will be hiring more people to knock on those doors so we can get to all of the households that haven’t responded yet,” a Census Bureau spokeswoman said. “Our recruiting pool, which is very large, puts us in a good position to do this.”

But experts are skeptical.

“We will have a flawed census that will be fatal to certain groups,” said Paul Ong, a researcher at U.C.L.A.’s Luskin School of Public Affairs who studies census participation and has served as an adviser to the Census Bureau.

Despite an unprecedented $187 million investment in outreach by the state and nonprofits in California, residents of Latino communities have been responding at lower rates than in 2010. Nationally, the trend is the same.

Volunteers handed out flyers in downtown Perris, a largely Latino community, where many people are wary of participating in the census. Credit…Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times

In some census tracts in far-flung areas of Riverside County, the response rate is hovering between 40 and 50 percent, about 10 percentage points behind the response rate a decade ago.

Even before the coronavirus hit, the census faced extraordinary challenges.

The Constitution requires a count of all residents, regardless of nationality or immigration status. California is home to almost 11 million immigrants, including about two million who are undocumented.

But President Trump pushed for 19 months, starting in 2018, to include a citizenship question on the decennial census, despite widespread criticism that it would dramatically depress responses, particularly from Latino immigrants. After the Supreme Court opposed the plan last year, Mr. Trump backed down.

Then last month he directed the government not to count undocumented immigrants for the purposes of reapportioning congressional seats. His policy memorandum would have the Census Bureau remove the immigrants from each state’s count using data estimates. While the move is being challenged in court, it has sown confusion anew in immigrant communities.

For many immigrants, documented and undocumented, his repeated insistence on not counting undocumented people has sent what seemed like a clear message: Your participation is not wanted.

Liz and Daniel Rivera, undocumented Mexicans who have lived in Riverside County for 18 years, were too nervous to fill out the 2010 census, they said. But this year, after attending workshops at TODEC, they were persuaded to fill out the form.

“We understood that it was safe and that it was important to participate if we want funding to improve our schools, parks and roads,” said Ms. Rivera, who said that she shared the information with friends and family.

But the couple delayed completing the online form after they, their two children and Ms. Rivera’s father, who is living with them, fell ill with Covid-19. While at home, they heard about Mr. Trump’s new presidential order to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count.

“We were so confused. We thought we weren’t supposed to participate anymore,” Ms. Rivera recalled.

She decided to call TODEC to inquire, just to be sure, and a staff member assured her that the Rivera household still had every right to take part. The couple plan to fill out the form next week.

Maria and Ramon Garcia, who have lived in the United States for two decades, said they had intended to complete the census until Mr. Trump’s recent announcement. Now they fear that participating could land them in the cross hairs of immigration enforcement.

“We were told that we should be counted,” said Mrs. Garcia, 50. “But then, just recently, we heard that the president doesn’t want us to be counted, and we’re worried that we could be deported if we participate.”

The Garcias called TODEC’s hotline on Friday to seek the legal center’s advice but could not be convinced that participating was safe.

“We came here from Mexico many years ago. We pay taxes, we work hard and we don’t want to put that in jeopardy,” said Mr. Garcia, 57, who has a gardening business with his wife. “I don’t think we should participate in the census.”

Adán Chávez, deputy director of the national census program at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said that reaction was widespread.

“We have had to contend with challenge after challenge, attack after attack that threatens our census work,” he said.

The group has responded by intensifying its “¡Hagase Contar!” (“Be Counted”) campaign, working with Spanish-language television to promote participation and calls to a hotline that answers questions and helps people complete the census in Spanish.

“Our lift was already much heavier in the middle of a pandemic,” Mr. Chávez said. “Now we’re having to tell people that everyone gets counted, it’s your right. Don’t worry.”

According to an analysis of census data to be released next week by Mr. Ong’s team, the estimated median response rate for Hispanics nationwide was 50 percent by August, down by nearly 13 percentage points from 2010. Among non-Hispanic whites, the estimated response rate was 69 percent, compared with 71 percent a decade ago.

States with large undocumented populations — California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois — stand to lose the most from an undercount.

TODEC volunteers began last year to go door-to-door in hard-to-count neighborhoods, in the rural reaches of Riverside County, to educate immigrants about the census. They erected booths at health fairs and hosted information sessions to educate people about the census.

But like other groups working in the field, it was forced to shift strategy — to phone banking, social media and Zoom info sessions in March, when the coronavirus began coursing through California.

On a Zoom call last Thursday titled, “The Census and My Community,“ which was also streamed on Facebook, TODEC staff and a Census Bureau representative spent a full hour trying to motivate Latinos to participate.

“If we respond, our community will get money. But if we aren’t counted, it’s as if we don’t exist,” said Lupe Camacho, the bureau’s representative.

She appealed to their commonality as immigrants. “I’m from Mexico,” said Ms. Camacho, who spoke in Spanish throughout the session. “I’m a naturalized citizen. But citizenship has nothing to do with this.”

During the session, she described the census as “pure statistics,” “completely confidential” and “posing no danger,” all but pleading for participation.

“We don’t pass on any information about anyone — not to the DMV, not to ICE, not to any city, state or federal authority,” she said, referring to the department of motor vehicles and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In Perris, there were bright moments as well as cautionary ones.

Maria Estela Perez Gomez, 55, emerged from her beige house at the sight of the caravan. “We filled out our census form,” she said excitedly, doing a little dance as a Mexican band that was part of the parade and procession played.

The hurdles have also motivated some people.

Montserrat Gomez, a 19-year-old college student, said the decision to curtail the count was one reason she joined the group of young adults, mostly children of immigrants, who marched through downtown Perris on Friday waving signs and distributing fliers.

“We need to convince them that they need to be counted so that the community receives the political representation and financial resources that it deserves,” she said. “And now we have less time to do it.”

Source: In California, It Will Take More Than a Parade to Save an Imperiled Census

By Miriam Jordan

Photo Credit…Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times

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The Green Card Process Through the Lens of a DMV Visit

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As an immigration attorney, I try to provide clients with a basic, yet insightful, understanding of various aspects of a complex immigration system. It’s not always easy, but I often find analogies to something commonplace can be helpful.  One analogy I’ve found to work well to explain the green card process beyond describing its mere,

As an immigration attorney, I try to provide clients with a basic, yet insightful, understanding of various aspects of a complex immigration system. It’s not always easy, but I often find analogies to something commonplace can be helpful.  One analogy I’ve found to work well to explain the green card process beyond describing its mere sequence of form filings likens the process to a visit to a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.

In my practice area of business immigration law, green card processes are mostly employment-based and involve the successive filing of a labor certification application, immigrant petition, and adjustment of status application (with the first not always required and the latter two sometimes eligible for concurrent filing). So I’ll refer to these types of filings in describing the analogy here.  But variations of the analogy may be equally applicable to other types of green card processes, such as those in which the aspiring permanent resident will apply for an immigrant visa overseas rather than adjustment of status within the United States, as well as those based on family relationships and those available to asylees and refugees.

The trappings of a visit to the DMV, no matter the state, may be familiar to you: the issuance of a waiting number determining your place in a queue, followed by a long wait for your number to be called at one of several counters to file required paperwork, followed yet again by a lengthy wait for your paperwork to be processed, and eventually – hopefully – approved without issue.  The counter at which you’ll be called, and the length of the corresponding queue (or maybe in some fortunate instances, the absence of one altogether), often depends on specific factors, such as the type of service you’re seeking.

Just as you’re issued a waiting number upon entry into a DMV office, aspiring permanent residents are issued a priority date when the first major filing in their green card process (either the labor certification application or immigrant petition) is submitted.  The priority date is the date this first filing is submitted and determines, once the immigrant petition is approved, the aspiring permanent resident’s place in any existing queue to apply for adjustment of status.

Similar to how you wait at the DMV for your number to be called to file your paperwork at the appropriate counter, aspiring permanent residents face varying wait times for their priority date to be “called” at a designated “counter” to apply for adjustment of status.  The “counter” in the green card process at which aspiring permanent residents must apply for adjustment of status is based on a combination of two main factors: their immigrant classification (which, when speaking with clients, I refer to as their “green card category”) and their country of chargeability (which I refer to as their country of birth).  Aside from some significant exceptions outside of the employment-based green card process,[1] the law limits the supply of green cards available each fiscal year.  Because the law allocates this limited supply based on a combination of both immigrant classification and country of chargeability, queues form at “counters” where the demand for green cards exceeds the available supply.  And the more severely demand exceeds supply, the longer the queue will be. This analogy helps to show why EB-2 and EB-3 immigrants born in India and China are often confronted with waits lasting many years for their priority date to be “called” at their designated counters,[2] while EB-2 and EB-3 immigrants born in most other countries often face no such queue.  In technical terms, the existence of a queue at a given “counter” means the availability of green cards associated with that counter’s classification and chargeability combination is “retrogressed.”  If there’s no queue, green card availability at that counter is “current.”

A visit to the DMV often entails a wait of several hours sitting and keeping watch of your designated counter at it serves the visitors who arrived before you until your own number is finally called.  Likewise, many aspiring permanent residents monitor the often plodding, month-to-month movement of “cut-off dates” in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ monthly Visa Bulletins for the designated “counter” at which they must apply for adjustment of status.[3]  The Visa Bulletin for a given month contains various charts showing whether a queue for filing an adjustment of status application exists for any classification and chargeability combination, and if so, how long the queue is.  Combinations for which there is no queue are assigned a “C” notation, indicating that green card availability is current and that the adjustment of status application can thus be filed at any time that month, including in concurrence with an immigrant petition if it has not already been approved, and assuming any prerequisite labor certification has been granted. Combinations for which there is a queue, and for which green card availability is thus retrogressed, are denoted by a “cut-off date,” with older dates reflecting longer queues.  Aspiring permanent residents seeking to adjust status at a “counter” at which green card availability is retrogressed can track their place in the queue by comparing their priority date with the applicable cut-off date each month.  Priority dates that fall before the applicable cut-off date in a given month are those that have been “called,” indicating that much like counters at which green card availability is current, an adjustment of status application can be filed at any time that month, including in concurrence with an immigrant petition if it has not already been approved, and assuming again that any prerequisite labor certification has been granted.

Like processing of paperwork filed at a counter at the DMV, processing of an adjustment of status application may take a long time.  But eventually – hopefully – the application is approved without issue.  And unlike a visit to the DMV, having qualified counsel during the green card process can make all the difference in one’s chance of success.

[1] For example, “immediate relatives” (spouses and children of US citizens, and parents of US citizens if the citizen is at least 21 years old) are exempt from annual numerical limits on green card availability. INA 201(b)(2)(A)(i).
[2] Aspiring permanent residents for whom the queue for applying for adjustment of status involves a wait of several years, such as EB-2 and EB-3 immigrants born in India and China, commonly change jobs or employers in the course of their wait. Such a change can require a restart of the green card process since employment-based green card processes are generally job and employer specific.  But to allow aspiring permanents residents who change jobs or employers to keep their place in queue, the law permits them to retain their priority date under certain conditions if they are the beneficiary of a previously approved EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 immigrant petition, and likewise become the beneficiary of an approved EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 immigrant petition based on their new job or employer. 8 CFR 204.5(e). 
[3] US Citizenship and Immigration Service also publishes monthly updates indicating whether to use the Visa Bulletin’s Dates for Filing charts or its Final Action Dates charts, to determine whether an adjustment of status application may be filed.

Source: The Green Card Process Through the Lens of a DMV Visit

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