HARLINGEN, Texas (Border Report) — A federal judge in northern California says the Trump administration cannot end the 2020 Census count a month early and must continue staffing neighborhoods through Oct. 31, a decision that was hailed by border leaders in South Texas.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh late Thursday ordered that the census count can continue through next month, which contradicts plans by the White House to end the count at the end of this month.
Koh said to end the constitutionally-mandated census count early would be “arbitrary and capricious.” That’s the same language that was used by the U.S. Supreme Court in June when they said the Trump administration cannot end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Koh said that a shortened count would likely produce inaccurate results. “An undercount in any locality matters greatly. Even a small undercount of a subset of the hard-to-count population would result in the loss of federal funding,” Koh wrote. “These harms and others will last through 2030, if not later.”
In granting her preliminary injunction, Koh sided with civil rights groups and local governments that sued the U.S. Census Bureau, arguing that minorities and others in hard-to-count communities would be missed if the counting ends this month.
The count has been made even harder with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has made it much more difficult for census workers to safely canvass neighborhoods and for communities to host outreach and Census rallies.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, represents Cameron County, a South Texas border county that has so far had fewer than 50% of households fill out the census form. He said extending the count, gives this border and mostly minority community a better chance of encouraging more families to fill out the nine questions on the census form. Cameron County had a 58% compliance rate during the 2010 Census.
“I applaud District Judge Lucy Koh’s just ruling that ensures Census 2020 counting efforts will continue through October 31, 2020. This additional month of outreach, which was the original deadline due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will give households the extra time they need to respond, and will give Census enumerators the opportunity to ensure that communities of color, rural communities, and individuals experiencing homelessness are rightfully counted,” Vela said in a statement. “States and localities like mine will benefit from the additional available time to collect response rates and ensure we have a more accurate count and the proper funds and resources brought to our community.”
“The goal of every Census is to count every person in our communities. The 2020 Census was and remains affected by the pandemic. Judge Lucy Koh’s order gives us hope that we will have more time to count everyone in our community,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said.
The border city of McAllen was among several South Texas communities this past week that have been hosting telethons, mega-raffles, ice cream giveaways and other events to try to entice residents to fill out the form.
But many residents who are undocumented are fearful to fill out a census form, even though the information is confidential and cannot be shared with another government agency or organization.
Their trepidation, coupled with the high rate of COVID-19 deaths in South Texas and extended shelter-in-place orders, have prevented outreach events and more participation.
“Hard-to-count communities, including those in my district, will greatly benefit from the more complete and accurate count this court ruling will ensure now occurs. Democracy won today as this ruling sends a clear message across America that all communities should have the opportunity to be counted and receive the proper allotment of federal funds for economic development, childcare, schools, hospitals, roads, public works, and many other vital community services,” Vela said.
Attorneys for the Census Bureau had argued that the census must finish by the end of September to meet the Dec. 31 deadline and have enough time for crunching the numbers used for deciding how many congressional seats each state gets, in a process known as apportionment.
An appeal by the Trump administration is expected.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.