Jorge Sanjuan pulled back a chain-link fence, and Cindy Quezada squeezed through the gap. They stepped over two rotting mattresses and an old tire and peered into a backyard. The neighbors eyed them suspiciously. “You guys with ICE?” one teenager asked.
Quezada laughed and shook her head. It was a sunny January afternoon, and she and Sanjuan had spent the past three hours crisscrossing the alleys of a Fresno, California, neighborhood with small one-story bungalows and Mexican restaurants, looking for sheds, garages, and trailers serving as makeshift homes. They weren’t out to harass the immigrants living there; they were there to count them.
Quezada and Sanjuan were working with the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, a network of organizations embarking on a pilot program to identify “low-visibility housing” in Fresno in preparation for the 2020 census. The Constitution requires the executive branch to tally “the whole number of persons in each state.” But every 10 years, the census counts some people more than once—such as wealthy Americans who own multiple homes—and others not at all, particularly those who are poorer, move often, or fear the government. The 2010 census, the most accurate to date, overcounted white residents by nearly 1 percent while failing to count 1.5 million people of color, including 1.5 percent of Hispanics, 2.1 percent of blacks, and 4.9 percent of Native Americans on reservations, the Census Bureau later concluded. Mexican immigrants were especially undercounted because the bureau didn’t know where they lived or because multiple families lived in one household.
That’s why Quezada and Sanjuan were in Fresno, where 70 percent of residents are people of color, 20 percent are immigrants, and one-third live in poverty, making it one of the hardest places in the country to count. Only 73 percent of residents in the east Fresno neighborhood they were canvassing mailed back their census forms in 2010—if they ever received them in the first place.