Illustration: Bhabna Banerjee

The Trump administration’s attempt to add a question about citizenship to the upcoming 2020 Census spread fear across many immigrant communities, leaving many discouraged from participating in the census, which could directly impact county funding and resources.

Community groups around Alameda and San Francisco County however are making efforts to educate people on the importance of the census through community outreach programs.

“We know if people are not being counted for as the county creates their budget, they look to see how many people are part of that population and then they make a decision on how much money should be set aside for this process,” said Gabriela Galicia, executive director of Street Level Health Project in Oakland.

In Alameda County, efforts are underway to work with community leaders to create safe spaces for immigrant communities to participate in the 2020 Census.

“Healthcare is a third of the budget in Alameda County,” said Alameda County District 3 Supervisor Wilma Chan. “So any loss of funds there is going to be devastating to the county.”

Currently, Alameda County receives 60 percent of its revenue from federal and state resources, according to Chan. However, Alameda County is anticipating uncertainty among immigrant groups with the 2020 Census, so officials set aside $1.5 million to supplement outreach and planning for the 2020 Census, Chan said.

“We knew the census was going to be a challenge even if the immigration question was on or not because there is so much anti-immigrant language and action coming out of Washington,” said Chan.

Maria G. Contreras is the President of Clinica Martin Baro, a medical student-run free clinic in the Mission District, funded exclusively by community donations. Clinica, which is open only on Saturdays, sees an average of 265 clients annually.

According to Contreras, the rising cost of living in San Francisco has forced many of those who utilize Clinica Martin Baro’s resources to leave the city. Clinica Martin Barro has tried to connect clients with resources in their new communities, but resources like Clinica’s are not always accessible or present in communities outside of San Francisco.

This is one reason why a full census count in Alameda County and surrounding Bay Area cities will be crucial to maintain resources available for those in need.

“Every person that is not accounted for [in Alameda County] is a loss of about $2,000 a year,” said Chan. “With undercounts of just three percent, we will lose $1 billion over the next 10 years so. It will have a huge, huge impact on our clinical services.”

According to UC Berkeley Labor Center, in 2017 there was a total of 55,000 uninsured people in San Francisco and San Mateo County, and 39,000 are not eligible to sign-up for medical insurance due to their immigration status, leaving them particularly vulnerable. In Alameda county, that number was even greater, with a total of 84,000 uninsured, and 65,000 not eligible due to immigration status.

Street Level Health Project is a free clinic in Oakland that provides services for recent immigrants, Indigenous communities, day laborers and uninsured populations in the surrounding area. Although they are mostly funded through foundation money they also receive some county money from Alameda County which helps run their health access program. The program provides basic health screenings and helps navigate folks into enrolling in clinics.

Gabriela Galicia, Street Level Health’s executive director, said that the county sets aside a specific budget to help support the immigrant and Indigenous communities in the county. However, an undercounct in the respective communities would result in a loss of funds for the program.

Just last year, Street Level Health Project conducted 718 medical health screenings; 272 nutritionist and herbalist consultations; 327 mental health consultations; and provided 240 participants with access to one of their 16 anxiety group sessions.

Although the Trump administration’s attempt to include the census question failed, the fear still remains, leaving many undecided about whether to participate in the 2020 Census.

“A lot of education is going to have to happen if this question is added, because I know our communities are not going to want to answer this document,” said Galicia. “A lot of our community is foreign to what the census is. This may be their first time they may be participating in this process.”

Casey Farmer, executive director of Alameda’s County Complete Count Committee for Census 2020, is working with grassroots organizations to ensure that as many people in Alameda County as possible participate in the 2020 Census.

Contreras stressed the importance of collaboration.

“In order for the Latinx community to be present within the Census, we need to create community partnerships. Especially in community spaces that the community trusts,” she said.

Alameda County’s Complete Count Committee is working with trusted community leaders in the health and education fields to create community partnerships by appointing community leaders as census ambassadors or trusted messengers.

These trusted community messengers will be provided with resources to educate their community groups on the importance of being accounted for in the upcoming census in a safe space.

“[The citizenship question]  was trying to deny their power in the community and by getting counted,” said Farmer. “They are actually holding on to that power, holding on to the million dollars of resources that our community deserves, making it so that we have an accurate count of who our community is.”

According to Chan, there is a general sense of worry in the county when it comes to the census. However, the county started planning and conducting proactive outreach early on so officials feel confident they will do the best they can with accounting for their population as a whole.

At the first Complete Count Committee meeting, there were 300 people in attendance, which shows the dedication to educate communities about the census.

“I feel like this whole 2020 presidential campaign on the Trump side is going to be on how bad immigrants are, you know, all his lies about immigrants,” said Chan. “I’m worried, but I know we are going to do the best that we can.”