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In Rural TN, Push to Help Immigrant Families Participate in Census

According to the Urban Institute, immigrants and their children make up one-quarter of the U.S. population. (Adobe Stock)
According to the Urban Institute, immigrants and their children make up one-quarter of the U.S. population. (Adobe Stock)
March 13, 2020

BOLIVAR, Tenn. - In the coming weeks, Tennesseans will have a chance to fill out their U.S. Census forms online or by mail. Cities across the state are working to ensure that groups that traditionally have been harder to count, including immigrant families in the state's rural farming regions, are all accounted for.

Bolivar City Councilman Jonathan Joy says local government resources depend on full participation.

"The way I would treat the census is just like a vote," says Joy. "And if you don't vote, you don't have a voice. If you don't tell the truth on your census, if you don't fill out the Census report, you don't have a voice."

Joy says because the census only occurs once a decade, it's especially critical to include babies and children younger than five. He notes that federal dollars for Medicaid, children's health insurance, foster care, adoption and child care are all based on census data.

It's believed that around one million children were missed in the 2010 census.

Deborah Stein, network director of the group Partnership for America's Children, says she understands why immigrant families may be hesistant to reveal information, but says the census survey only asks basic questions about the number of people that live in a household.

"They're supposed to count everybody," says Stein. "The Constitution says count everybody who's residing in the United States. And there will not be a citizenship question on the survey. You don't have to identify people's citizenship or immigration status. But we are still very concerned that we'll miss a lot of immigrant children. "

According to the American Immigration Council, 5% of Tennessee residents are immigrants, while 4% are native-born U.S. citizens with at least one immigrant parent.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - TN