Western Washington Gets Real: Asians push for the 2020 Census

SEATTLE — The U. S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to put a “citizenship question” on the 2020 Census.

Opponents said it would have a chilling effect on undocumented immigrants who, by law, are to be counted every 10 years along with those legally living here.

That ruling was a victory for a Seattle institution and three Japanese American sisters who were once interned.

Retired corporate attorney Sharon Sakamoto could be forgiven if she wanted nothing to do with the U. S. Census.

After all, in 1942, the U.S. government used census data to round up 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent and sent them to internment camps. Sakamoto’s parents and four siblings, all born here, were put on a train bound for Minidoka, Idaho. She was born there the very next year.

“I know, for my parents, the memories were agonizing and devastating in many ways,” said Sakamoto. “And they really kept that from us.”

They wanted instead, she says, for their children not to the feel the stigma of what she now calls their incarceration.

“Even though I think, well, in my heart I was always aware of it,” she said, “and became more and more aware of it as I grew older.”

Still, it meant when the Trump administration said it would add a “citizenship question” to the 2020 census, she recoiled.

“If you don’t have an accurate count of the people then our government can’t really function and operate in the way that it’s intended,” Sakamoto said.

“Sure, there’s a tension there,” said Professor Robert Chang, executive director of the Korematsu Center at the Seattle University Law school.

He says they joined the legal challenge to the citizenship question acutely aware of history; enlisted Sharon Sakamoto and her sisters to join, too.

He says they resisted the tension because of a larger goal.

“Sure,” he said. “And a bigger goal is everybody counts. We need to make sure everybody counts.”

Professor Chang says they feared undocumented immigrants would be betrayed this time.

“We were wanting to tell the story of the abuses to stop this abuse,” he said.

The Supreme Court struck down the citizenship question.

“We want to let the public know that the census is safe,” insists spokesman Donald Bendz. “And part of that means that your information is now protected by law and has been for decades.”

Bendz says census officials began addressing its troubled history early on. And in Washington state, at least, that appears to have paid off.

“As of right now, 99.9% of the state has been counted,” he said.

Neither Professor Chang nor Sharon Sakamoto is willing to take credit for the number of Washingtonians who filled out their census forms. But the fact that so many people in this state overcame their fears, their worries about how that data would be used, to fill out the form anyway is awfully sweet.

“Yes, isn’t that wonderful?” marveled Sakamoto

It means that nearly everyone here will count, indeed.

The U. S. Census says it is striving for 100% participation in every state.

If you are in the .01% not yet counted in this state, you have until October 31.

An accurate count determines everything from Congressional representation to tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.