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California Prepares For Challenging Census Count

Michelle R. Smith / AP Photo

This March 23, 2018 photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census test letter mailed to a resident in Providence, R.I.

Michelle R. Smith / AP Photo

California officials are trying to prevent a possible undercount of the state’s population in the next census. They worry that fear in immigrant communities will depress response rates, which could cost California federal funding and Congressional representation.

Census staff have already found an increasing worry among immigrant populations about answering their questions, as the Trump campaign and administration have made a priority of cracking down on immigrants in the country without legal documentation.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have publicly opposed those efforts, including through passage of a measure that extends sanctuary city protections throughout the state.

“A colleague said to me, ‘Look for the last year and a half, I’ve been telling my constituents that if the federal government shows up at your door, don’t answer,’” Berman said. “‘And now we’re going to be telling our constituents, when the federal government shows up at your door, don’t answer—unless it’s the Census.’”

The census count directly determines how many members of Congress the state will have and how much funding California receives for federal programs such as Medicaid. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed $40 million in state money for Census outreach. Berman called that the most funding ever dedicated to state outreach and also not enough.

Berman spoke Tuesday at a panel hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California. Also on the panel, former Census Bureau director John Thompson said undocumented immigrants and their families should not be concerned about answering Census information.

“The Census Bureau will not, and I repeat will not, tabulate any data, produce any publications that will allow any individual to be identified,” said Thompson, an Obama-appointee who retired as director last year. “So, they won’t do that. I would be comfortable in telling someone it would be safe to fill out the Census questionnaire. And you can tell your constituents that.”

California is also suing the Trump administration over the planned inclusion of a new question about citizenship.


Ben Bradford

Former State Government Reporter

As the State Government Reporter, Ben covered California politics, policy and the interaction between the two. He previously reported on local and state politics, business, energy, and environment for WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Read Full Bio 

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