HOUSTON (CN) – The citizenship question expected to be placed on the 2020 census has mired the survey in partisan acrimony, but speakers at a black mayors conference in Houston were upbeat Friday about the 500,000 well-paying, if temporary, jobs slated for census workers.
Rebecca Briscoe, U.S. Census Bureau partnership coordinator for the Houston metro area, is already recruiting staff for the census, set for spring 2020 when households will receive the survey and have the option of responding by mail, online or by phone.
A panelist on a “Make It Count: Preparing Cities for Census 2020” discussion at the African American Mayors Association conference, Briscoe said she went to a Baptist mega church in Houston last Sunday to recruit people for $24.50-per-hour census jobs.
She said a church minister let her employee get on the pulpit to announce the jobs.
After they did the ministry, Briscoe said, some parishioners went to the church’s computer lab and filled out job applications.
She said in 2020 the U.S. Census Bureau will be the nation’s second-largest employer behind only Walmart.
According to the bureau, it has already started hiring for a preliminary canvas that will take place between August and October 2019, in which workers will visit neighborhoods to “identify every place where people live or could live” and take down addresses.
If the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s decision to include a citizenship question, the bureau estimates that 6.5 million immigrants will not fill out the survey.
Ross says he added the question at the Justice Department’s request. In a March 2018 memo explaining his rationale, he said the Justice Department uses citizenship data to enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities’ voting rights.
But with immigrants already wary due to the Trump administration’s crackdown on the undocumented, some fear immigration agents will target them if they divulge their noncitizen status.
David Allen, mayor of Prairie View, Texas, moderated the census discussion Friday for the black mayor’s conference, which took place over three days in downtown Houston.
Prairie View, population 6,000, is 50 miles northwest of Houston. It was built around the historically black college Prairie View A&M University.
Allen said he’s tapped a group of the university’s students to help spread the word about the census to residents. He said he got all the motivation he needed when he learned that local governments will receive an estimated $1,600 in federal funds for each person counted.
“We need the money, that’s our schools, social services and all of that, so I think if we keep that in mind we’ll make sure no one goes uncounted,” he said.
Census counts dictate the number of seats states get in the U.S. House of Representatives and guide the distribution of $800 billion in federal funds.
To ensure immigrants don’t shy away, Allen advised mayors to recruit bilingual people to be census workers.
“We have to have people who look like them. It’s important who you send. They need to speak their language. And they’ll also be more comfortable with them saying, ‘It’s OK, this has nothing to do with your situation and your legal status here,’” he said.
Court watchers expect the Supreme Court to ratify the citizenship question after a hearing Tuesday in which Chief Justice John Roberts, the likely swing vote, said he agreed with Ross that citizenship data is needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
The census has not inquired about citizenship since 1950.