ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – September 25, 2020 – The New Mexico Native Census Coalition is pleased with U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh’s decision on Thursday to extend the deadline for the U.S. Census Bureau to complete the self-response operation of the 2020 Census to October 31.
The extension will allow many tribes, including the Navajo Nation and the Gila River Indian Community who joined the lawsuit with nonprofit organizations, to conduct a complete and accurate count. The Navajo Nation was one of several tribes across the country who were heavily impacted by COVID-19, which forced closures and delayed Census field operations.
While the Coalition is pleased with the court’s ruling, “it is still unclear what the judge’s ruling exactly means at this time,” said Ahtza Chavez, Executive Director of the NAVA Education Project (NAVAEP), the parent organization of the NM Native Census Coalition. The U.S. Census Bureau as of 2 pm Mountain Time has not released an updated operations response. The Trump administration is also appealing the decision, according to news reports.
Chavez said because of the uncertainty of the judge’s decision the NM Native Census Coalition plans to continue to operate under the September 30 deadline as NAVAEP’s funding is tied to the date.
“We will continue to advocate, provide messaging and support to Coalition members. However, we would like to continue the momentum we created in getting out the count to September 30,” Chavez said. “It is imperative that we count as many people in our communities as crucial federal and state funding is tied to Census data.”
The preliminary injunction Judge Koh issued in the Northern District of California requires the Census Bureau to keep the count of all residents until Oct. 31 as originally announced by the bureau after it adjusted field operations due to COVID-19. Koh found that the administration’s truncated census schedule is likely to produce inaccurate numbers about historically undercounted groups, including people of color and immigrants. That, in turn, would harm the constitutional purpose of the count — to redistribute the seats in the House of Representatives among the states based on their latest populations, according to news reports.
Chavez said the Coalition’s core team will continue to keep tribes and tribal Complete Count Committees updated on the Census Bureau’s field operations as they are provided, as well as provide support with statewide funding issued by the NM Indian Affairs Department.
If the judge’s ruling stands, the Coalition will continue to host weekly Friday meetings throughout October to provide updates and answer questions about the Census Bureau’s operations.
“We are really pleased with tribal Complete Count Committee’s efforts in this as we see response rates go up daily, including those on the Navajo Nation. It goes to show when we have challenges in our tribal communities as we’ve seen with COVID-19 that together we can meet those challenges.”
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