More than 23 million Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders live in the U.S. For this largely immigrant population, barriers toward an accurate count for the U.S. Census include language, poverty and education.
Terry Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC
shares how — as Census 2020 approaches — her organization is engaging AAPI communities to push for increased participation.
Ellee Pai Hong: The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 16 million people were either not counted or incorrectly counted in the 2010 census, many of those from marginalized communities. The Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities have been under-counted for decades, disadvantaging families, communities, and neighborhoods. Hello and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers I'm Ellee Pai Hong. The 2020 census is rapidly approaching. Terry Ao Minnis, Director of Census and Voting Programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, or AAAJC, joins me for a discussion on this topic. Terry, thank you so much for coming in.
Terry Minnis: Thank you for having me.
Ellee Pai Hong: Appreciated. You know, the Asian American population, this population has been under-counted for decades. Why is that so?
Terry Minnis: So, for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander community, there are a number of reasons why they have a tendency to be missed more often than those in the mainstream community. One reason, of course, are language barriers. We have communities that are very ... immigrate to this country and/or have a background or history of speaking languages other than English. Asian Americans have a rate of limited-English proficiency of about a third of the community who have some difficulties with the English language. For Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, it's about 13.5%. So that's something where not getting information I their language can really impact their ability to participate. Another reason is there's a general mistrust of government, and that, unfortunately, has been growing and heightening, certainly within the last several years. So there are questions about why is the government asking this information, whether that's distrust of government that comes with them from their home countries and/or just mistrust due to some of the things that have happened, and some of the rhetoric that's being spread around our communities today.
Ellee Pai Hong: There's a couple components to your answer that I want to address in terms of the mistrust of government. During the 1940s, the census was used to incarcerate Japanese Americans into internment camps, so there's evidence there for that mistrust.
Terry Minnis: Absolutely. That was a very dark time in our country's history, and one thing to keep in mind is that, unfortunately, while a very morally reprehensible act, it was not technically illegal at the time. The confidentiality protections that we had in place at that time were not as strong as they are today, and there was actually legislation that was passed, the War Powers Act, that superseded what confidentiality provisions and protections were in place at the time. Coming out of that incident, we actually have seen the strengthening of Title 13, the law that protects census data, to the point where it's really the strongest protections around confidentiality that we have today. So I think that we know what we have today is not what we had back then, and so what happened back then cannot happen today.
Ellee Pai Hong: So that brings me to my second point, which is that the Supreme Court at the time of this taping, plans on hearing a case on whether or not the citizenship question can be included in the 2020 census. So if what you just said is true, why can't that question be included in the census?
Terry Minnis: Well, we have to remember that the citizenship question, first of all, has not been asked of the decennial census form since 1950. That is the form that goes out to every single household every 10 years. But, the question has been asked on the sample survey that has been sent out since 1960. So, at that time, the long form of the census, which was sent out at the same time as the shorter version, which has ... the long form had many more questions about socioeconomic characteristics, and that was replaced in the mid-2000s by the American Community Survey. So the citizenship data is actually currently being collected. We have this information. There is no reason to add the question onto the decennial short form at this late date without the proper testing and all you're doing is creating confusion and creating panic in communities that are already predisposed not to participate, and what we will see is a less-accurate census than we otherwise would have without the addition of the question. That is, we would have a much ore accurate census if we have the form as it had been planned all throughout this decade before this last-minute, hail Mary question.
Ellee Pai Hong: So we'll have to wait on that decision, but the census will still count if you don't answer that question, so you really want folks to take that census, answer every single question, because the stakes are really high in terms of every single person participating in the census.
Terry Minnis: Absolutely. It drives over $800 billion annually to states from federal government dollars. It really helps whether it's federal government, whether it's nonprofit organizations, whether it's local, state, governments plan, right? We all have limited resources. We're all trying out how best to serve those who have greatest needs, and we need accurate data in order to do that. It allows us to pinpoint where problems exist. It allows us to problem solve and really make effective and efficient use of the resources we have to make sure that we are all serving the needs of every American.
Ellee Pai Hong: And it also determines where Congressional seats go. I know during the 2010 census 12 seats were switched over, and power shifted because of it.
Terry Minnis: Absolutely. I mean, the census is taken, as directed through the Constitution for purposes of reapportionment of the seats, as you said, and that data then flows to how districts are drawn through the redistricting process, both Congressional seats, state seats, local seats, school board. It really dictates how our government can be responsive and representative of our communities.
Ellee Pai Hong: All right. Stakes are high. Hopefully everyone gets that census sheet and answers it properly. Terry, thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it.
Terry Minnis: Thank you.
Ellee Pai Hong: And, thank you so much for joining us. Again, Terry Ao Minnis, with the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, AAJC, and thank you for watching. For more conversations with leaders in your area and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com.