SANTA FE – New Mexico launched a multimillion-dollar effort Tuesday to ensure an accurate census count of its heavily Hispanic and Native American population, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the census should inquire about citizenship.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed an executive order that draws on her Cabinet, advocacy groups and tribal liaisons to encourage participation in the upcoming census.
Her administration estimates the state receives about $7.8 billion annually from the federal government based on census counts to underwrite health care, educational programs, transportation, housing and more. The governor warned that a 1% census undercount could translate into more than $700 million in lost federal revenues over a decade.
New Mexico is one of the most difficult populations to accurately count, according to a comprehensive examination from the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York.
The Democratic governor criticized a new emphasis from the Census Bureau on internet and telephone questionnaires, saying that was more likely to overlook rural areas without reliable communication infrastructure.
“We don’t have in remote areas the right kind of connectivity,” she said.
At a news conference, U.S. Census Bureau Partnership Coordinator Sergio Martinez said the 2020 census will emphasize a “self-response” approach. He offered reassurances that officials will go door-to-door where responses are inadequate.
“If the dog ate the questionnaire, if something happened, we will have somebody come to the door,” said Martinez, who is assigned to Utah and New Mexico.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared ready to uphold the Trump administration’s plan to include a citizenship question on census questionnaires. Three lower courts have so far blocked the plan to ask every U.S. resident about citizenship, finding the question would discourage many immigrants from being counted.
Lujan Grisham said she believes the citizenship question would interfere with accuracy.
The state Legislature set aside $3.5 million for the work of the new “complete count commission” to encourage census participation.
The bulk of that spending will go toward advocacy groups that have relationships with remote communities and minority groups, said Robert Rhatigan, a population research scientist at the University of New Mexico who will serve on the new commission.
He emphasized that census results inform a broad range of public policy decisions and influence how legislative districts are drawn to ensure political representation.