OLEAN — A U.S. Census Bureau official will give a presentation Saturday in Olean to discuss how the once-per-decade survey works, why it matters and how local organizations can promote it in the Southern Tier.
The talk will also inevitably cover what’s made the 2020 census so controversial: President Donald Trump’s push to get a citizenship question included on the form.
“It’s actually not intended to be all about Trump,” said Chris Stanley, whose Citizen Action Network of Southwestern New York is hosting the presentation at the Warming House by Dr. Jason Eastman. “... I don’t know if he’ll talk about Trump, but I’m sure it will come up in the questions and answers.”
Eastman, a sociology professor at Coastal Carolina University, is currently living in Olean for the year while working for the Census Bureau as partnership specialist for the Southern Tier.
Partnership specialists work around the country to educate the public about the census, as well as recruit local organizations to promote the census in their communities.
Stanley, a St. Bonaventure University theology professor, knew Eastman through Eastman’s wife, Dr. Jennifer Karash-Eastman, a St. Bonaventure visiting Spanish professor.
Stanley was then talking with Eastman while Eastman performed music at CAN’s recent South Olean Garden Festival and Flea Market.
“He was telling me what he was doing with the census and I said, ‘Would you like to come talk to our group about it?’ And he said he’d love to,” Stanley said.
“What he’s essentially going to do is talk about how the census works and how it’s reported and the nuts and bolts of it,” Stanley added, “and then he’s going to talk about the current controversy.”
Although the U.S. Supreme Court for now has blocked the attempt, the Trump administration is trying to include a citizenship question on the upcoming census, arguing better data is needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities’ electoral power.
There has not been a citizenship question on the short-form census that goes to most Americans since 1950.
Critics say such a question would discourage both documented and undocumented immigrants from filling out the forms altogether out of fear of deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Lots of people are in mixed citizenship families. Then they would have to identify one of those people as not a citizen,” said Linda Matthews, chair of CAN’s Immigrant and Refugee Task Force, who will introduce Eastman Saturday. “They’re terrified that then ICE is going to show up at their door, so when the census comes around, they’re going to ignore it.”
The Census Bureau estimates some 6.5 million people would not fill out the form if the citizenship question is included.
This skewed data could have consequences. The census is tied directly to federal funding and the number of congressional representatives, so states with high immigrant populations could lose out on federal money and representation in Congress.
“It will have all sorts of financial effects on school systems and on representation, and I don’t believe that’s what the signers of the Constitution intended,” Matthews said. The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution.
Matthews’ Immigrant and Refugee Task Force has for the last couple years helped Catholic Charities of Buffalo collect household items for refugee families in the Buffalo area. The items include everything from sheets and towels to repaired bicycles to help refugees get to their jobs.
Matthews said they’ve done this work in the Buffalo area because, although Olean was historically a city of immigrants, there’s just not that many refugees and disadvantaged immigrants in the city now.
Cattaraugus County has a foreign-born person population of just 2%, according to 2018 Census Bureau estimates.
While task force members have discussed helping refugee families relocate to Cattaraugus County, Matthews said Catholic Charities has told them doing so might not be helpful.
“At least initially, people don’t necessarily have the language skills, they need some training, they need to have the acclimation, and up there there are more agencies that provide classes, medical care, job placement, job training,” she explained. “We don’t have that kind of infrastructure here to help them.”
However, Matthew said there’s interest locally about immigration issues and helping immigrants. She noted the task force does not advocate for open borders — just immigration reform and fair treatment of immigrants, particularly at the Southern Border.
The task force will hold a vigil at 8 p.m. Friday in Lincoln Park for Lights for Liberty, a nationwide protest against the treatment of detained immigrants.
Saturday’s census discussion will start at 10 a.m. The Warming House is located at 164 N. Union St. Attendees are asked to enter from North Barry Street. Free parking is available in the city lot behind the building.