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A regional immigration-advocacy organization and York City are rallying the immigrant community to make sure its voices are heard in the 2020 census that begins in April.

The decennial head count of those living in the U.S. determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and also influences where billions of federal dollars are allocated.

After President Donald Trump's administration attempted to include a citizenship question on the census, Latino leaders say the historically underrepresented population needs to overcome concerns with giving out personal information and participate in the census.

"Even if the citizenship question isn't on the census, the damage is already done," said Laila Martin, the lead organizer for York's CASA branch. "We've found a lot of people who are citizens don't want to be counted either. But it's about educating people."

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CASA members will soon begin holding house meetings to inform local immigrants, especially those not actively engaged in the community, and to stress the importance of participating in the census and soothe fears.

Roughly 32% of the city's population is Latino or Hispanic, according to 2018 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. The number translates to roughly 14,000 individuals.

Once that demographic knows about the political effect and fiscal importance of the census — Pennsylvania misses out on $2,400 for each person not counted, Martin said — the organization is hoping to have at least 200 individuals pledge to participate in York and surrounding cities.

The importance of the census hasn't fallen on deaf ears at York City Hall, either. Mayor Michael Helfrich, over the past couple of months, has taken time at meetings to emphasize the importance of grabbing as many federal dollars as possible.

Pennsylvania was allocated more than $39 billion in 2016 based on 2010 census data, but city officials did not have data specific to York City.

"If we are not counted, we do not get our equal share of the funding," Helfrich said. "We're really hoping we can help alleviate some of the fears these folks have. Even people that are in this country legally are concerned about the bureaucracy and red tape they could get caught up in. But it is to our detriment not to be counted."

In collaboration with the Census Bureau, the city will form, within the next month, a Complete Count Committee composed of community leaders, immigrant organizations and politicians to lay out a plan to get the word out about the census.

"It's going to be a lot of person-to-person communication and word of mouth," said Mike Pritchard, the city's planner. "We're also making sure people who are well known in the community are carrying the message into the neighborhoods."

Come April 1, households can respond to a census questionnaire either online, by mail or by phone. In some more remote areas, census takers may visit in person to collect the necessary information.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD. 

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