Chicago-Area Groups Begin Census Outreach To Immigrants | WBEZ
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Chicago-Area Groups Begin Census Outreach To Immigrants

After two days of training, outreach workers and staff from 45 local immigrant rights groups kicked off their census campaign Wednesday in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

“Our communities are some of the fastest growing communities across the state,” said Lawrence Benito, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), at a news conference at Casa Michoacán, where the training was held. “This year, through the 2020 census, we have the opportunity to not only show our growing numbers, but also to show our growing power.”

ICIRR led the two-day training, which focused on canvassing door-to-door to reach residents. Benito said outreach workers will educate residents about the importance of the census and provide them with help filling out the questionnaire in the coming months.

Lawrence Benito at ICIRR census outreach press conference
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang/WBEZ News
ICIRR Executive Director Lawrence Benito speaks at a news conference Wednesday to kickoff census outreach efforts in immigrant communities. ICIRR received the most money from the state — $3.7 million — for census outreach.
He added that the training also focused on relieving immigrants’ fears about the census, in light of the Trump administration’s efforts last year to include a citizenship question in the 2020 questionnaire.

Anel Sancen, census coordinator for Mujeres Latinas en Acción, said organizations are striking a delicate balance between being sensitive to residents’ fears about the census and stressing what’s at stake if they don’t participate.

“Because of all the fear that was implemented, we were out in the community ... telling them, ‘Don’t open doors," and now we’re out here [saying], ‘Open your door,’” Sancen said. “But it’s easier for us to go knock on the doors; they know our faces, they know our communities… we already have that trust with them.”

The groups were joined by state and local lawmakers, who also stressed the importance of participating in the census.

“This is one of the more diverse districts in the entire state,” said State Rep. Theresa Mah, whose 2nd District includes Pilsen. “But that diversity comes with the fact that there are lots of different hard-to-count communities based on age, socioeconomic status, immigrant status, you name it.”

State Rep. Lisa Hernandez touted the $29 million Illinois appropriated for census outreach, with about two-thirds of it going to local groups throughout the state.

“We have invested in Illinois; we have invested in the people,” Hernandez said. “Twenty-nine million invested in making sure that that count is as accurate as possible — it's reflecting the importance of what this initiative is all about.”

Of the $20 million awarded to community groups, ICIRR was allotted the most money — $3.7 million in all — to reach residents in Chicago, suburban Cook County, and some surrounding collar counties. ICIRR spokesman Brandon Lee said the group has distributed some of its allotment to 67 partner organizations — including the 45 groups that participated in the canvassing training — to hire outreach workers and purchase materials needed for their census campaigns.

Census outreach worker Christopher Cortez
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang/WBEZ News
Christopher Cortez, 27, a census outreach worker with the Spanish Coalition for Housing, prepares to canvass neighborhoods on Jan. 22, 2020.
Outreach worker Christopher Cortez said he will be canvassing neighborhoods for the next three months on behalf of the Spanish Coalition for Housing, which received funds from ICIRR for census outreach. He said the training focused on “how to communicate properly and try to make people feel as comfortable as possible” with the census.

“We really want to make sure that we’re reaching the people who haven’t been counted in the past, who probably don’t want to be counted,” Cortez said.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.

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