Plaintiff In Census Citizenship Case 'Not Ready To Sit Back Yet'

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Friday, June 28, 2019 - 11:47am
Updated: Friday, June 28, 2019 - 11:48am

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LAUREN GILGER: As we just discussed yesterday, the Supreme Court put a controversial question about citizenship status on hold. The court ruled that, at this time, the federal government cannot ask about citizenship status on the 2020 Census. The ruling was 5-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the liberal justices in the decision. Opponents to the citizenship question have argued it would have a chilling effect on people filling out the census, which in turn affects the amount of federal tax dollars and the number of legislative districts provided to each state. According to some estimates, Arizona could have been one of the hardest-hit states on that level. Local civil rights leader Alejandro Chavez was a plaintiff in the case, and he's the grandson of legendary activist Cesar Chavez. I spoke with him about this earlier this morning and began by asking him about something he said the last time he came into our studios. The question, he said "scares the hell out of me" is the quote. So I asked him, is he relieved?

Alejandro Chavez
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Alejandro Chavez, grandson of Cesar Chavez, speaks to students at a south Phoenix leadership academy named for his grandfather.

ALEJANDRO CHAVEZ: Yes, and we have a way to go. We've still got to get them printed. It's like, until the check's cashed almost, right? So we've got to get them printed. We've got to get them mailed out. But if if people still don't participate, we haven't actually completed what we're trying to do — get everyone counted. So it is a process that we're trying to do. And the first process is making sure everyone can be counted and will be counted. So that's the first hurdle. And yes, it's a huge win. And yes, it scares me a little less. But they're not printed yet. So, you know, I kind of am still not ready to sit back yet.

GILGER: Well, and the president also said yesterday he wants his lawyers to consider looking into delaying the census over this. So you're not sitting quite easy yet?

CHAVEZ: Right.

GILGER: OK. I want to talk about your concerns about this to remind everyone about why these lawsuits were in place — why this was such a controversial question to begin with. What were your major issues here?

CHAVEZ: Look, roads are a huge thing. I'll be honest. Infrastructure. We've been growing so much. I mean, when I first moved here 11 years ago I used to be able to get from where I lived to here in 20 minutes freeway time.

GILGER: You live in west Phoenix?

CHAVEZ: I live west Phoenix, correct. Now there's significantly more traffic. You can't cut across the 17 because everybody does it now. And if you try to go down to you know Laveen and cut across, now everybody does that too. So our population has just grown, and the roads need to be able to reflect that. It also is about how we're gonna get funding to make sure we have enough police and enough firefighters and just enough resources for everybody as well as schools. My son and my daughter are going to be going to the same school. As a parent, I'm excited. Two drop-offs and two pick-ups is a nightmare. But knowing that they're going to be getting the funding they need — and making sure — is even that much more important.

GILGER: But you also talked about the the real concerns and memories of segregation and of fear from the immigrant community that this question even being suggested brought up. Tell us a little bit about what you've been hearing from your community as this has been playing out.

CHAVEZ: Yeah. Well first, let's also remember a lot people are in mixed families, and their children who are U.S. citizens are going to these schools. Aside from the fear mongering and aside from the being targeted — aside from having their name in a database with an administration who, let's be honest we really don't feel we can trust with that information. So people are feeling better about being able to give that information truthfully, but they also really are going to benefit from the schools and the infrastructure because they use those things as well. And that's why it was so important.

GILGER: The last time you were here you told me a question like this is the first way to send people back into the shadows. And I wonder if the threat of this and the conversation around this has already started to do that. Are you concerned that this is scaring people to the point that, even if the question is not on there, they don't want the federal government to have their information?

CHAVEZ: Yes. Some damage like that is already done. That's why it's important to get them printed and start the process right away, so we can start getting more opportunities to visit those communities. We can have them visited by people they trust in areas they trust, so that we can break down that barrier. You know, one thing is, when that trust is broken, it can be rebuilt. However, we have to start the process. And the only way we can start it is by having those census forms in our hands, out there getting the people on the doors, talking. The people who are from the community, the community leaders are going can be out there for this. They're gonna be hosting forums in English and Spanish to help people understand why it's important to complete them. Support people through the process. We can't do that until we have those forms. So I think some of that damage is done. But even though the trust is broken, I think we can close the ground on that once we start the process.

GILGER: So how do you go forward from here with this sort of up in the air if printing does start on Monday as it is supposed to, or if it is delayed? What's the message to the community? How do you convince them this is worth it for them?

CHAVEZ: It's funny ... story about my grandfather: a student was trying to do a report on him and trying to break down what he did. And so they follwed him. They said, "Cesar, so what do you do? You know, you organize millions of farmworkers. What is it you do?" And he says, "Well first, I go and I talk to one person. And then I go, and I talk to another person. And I go, and I talk to another person." And the person kind of laughs, "OK, I get it. You're an organizer. You talk to people. But really, what is it? You have to have a secret. I mean everybody, tries it." He says, "I do." He said, "Oh what what is the secret?" He says "I go, and I talk to one person. And I go, and I talk to one person. And I go, and I talk to one person." And basically it's that this work needs to happen one person at a time. That's why it's so important that every block has three or four people like myself who are out there talking to their neighbors as well as the people that the census hire. Someone talking to them and really sharing their personal narrative is going to make the difference, and I think that's how we go forward. It's one person at a time talking to one more person and making it happen.

GILGER: All right. Alejandro Chavez, thank you so much for coming in.

CHAVEZ: Thank you for having me.

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