WATSONVILLE — With the 2020 Census slightly more than a year away, Watsonville got an early start Tuesday by forming a committee meant to ensure the city's residents are accurately counted.
City officials and other community leaders gathered in the Community Room of the Watsonville Civic Plaza to kick off the 2020 Census Complete Count Committee.
Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census counts every resident in the country every 10 years. The data is used to decide the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, while also determining how federal funds are distributed to local communities, which is estimated at $675 billion a year.
According to Deputy City Manager Tamara Vides, Watsonville receives about $2,000 for every resident counted. That also means, she noted, the city loses $2,000 for every resident that is not counted.
"If you don't participate in the census, it means less resources for our community," Vides said.
Watsonville is a community that has been "historically undercounted," she said. The city's large number of immigrants and densely populated areas have made it difficult for census workers to gather an accurate count of the city's residents, according to Vides.
Making matters more difficult, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross earlier this year approved plans to add a question asking if the resident is a citizen of the United States.
Shortly after, more than two dozen states, cities and other groups filed lawsuits against the Trump administration, saying the question could be used to target those who are in the country illegally. The case is currently being considered in federal court, and is also expected to reach the Supreme Court next year.
According to Vides, three percent less Latinos participated in the 2010 Census compared to the 2000 Census. Interacting with the federal government was cited as the primary reason for the lack of participation.
Taylor Brenis, an aide for Rep. Jimmy Panetta, said the congressman is opposed to the citizenship question.
"This move left unchecked will only serve to suppress the minority vote and push the immigrant community further into the darkness," she said.
Brenis stressed the importance of an accurate census count for Watsonville and the country as a whole.
"Failure to do so will be enormously damaging and prove profoundly consequential for decades to come," she said.
After a brainstorming session among the attendees of the meeting, Police Chief David Honda said many people are skeptical about the government's use of census data. He cited the 1940 Census, which government officials reportedly used to target Japanese Americans for internment during World War II.
There are also many questions left unanswered about the census, such as if residents can leave the citizenship question blank if it does appear on the form, he said.
"In order to gain trust, we need to know the answers," Honda said.
The Census Bureau is expected to open 40 area offices across the country beginning in January, with Census Day taking place on April 1, 2020. The data is expected to be delivered to the president by Dec. 31, 2020.