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Forest Park Commissioner Jessica Voogd stood in front of the TV cameras with a large group of community officials, clergy and rights advocates at a press conference at the PASO main office on North Avenue in Melrose Park on Feb. 24. She was showing solidarity with the advocacy group in opposing what she called “bullying and intimidation tactics” used by the Trump administration, “an obvious attempt to reduce participation in the 2020 Census.”

PASO (Proyecto de Accion de los Suburbios del Oeste or West Suburban Action Projection) is, according to their website, “a community-based social justice organization that works to engage community members to address issues that affect them.”

Anna Marin, organizing director for PASO, confirmed news reports that state many in the Latinx community are afraid if they complete the census forms and send them in, they will be risking deportation.

Marin said it has been a challenge for PASO staff members to assure the Spanish-speaking immigrant population that a “citizenship question” will not be on the census forms and the information they give will not be used against them. It’s been a challenge because of a lack of trust in civic institutions like the police and government at all levels, a lack of trust which is based on a long history of being treated unjustly.

Prominent on a banner hanging on the wall in PASO’s main office at 3415 North Ave. in Melrose Park are the words sin papeles, sin miedo — “without papers, without fear.” Marin and her fellow advocates are trying to spread the word that even if people lack documentation, they don’t have to be afraid of completing the forms.

“I hope my attendance at the Feb. 24 press conference,” Voogd said, “demonstrates my solidarity with communities that have been historically marginalized and also honors our Forest Park resolution, which states, in part, that it is the policy of the village to welcome and treat all persons entering or living in our community with the same respect, fairness, and dignity, and to continue providing municipal services and enforcing the law on an equal basis to all people, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or nation of origin or descent or federal immigration status.”

Part of PASO’s message to their target population is that not only are the negative rumors about the citizenship question untrue, but it is also in their self-interest to participate in the decennial population count.

Marin repeated what census workers have been emphasizing for the last several months. Federal funding for local village projects and programs is in large part dependent on the number of residents counted. The federal government gives $1,400 dollars to local governments every year for every person counted in the census for the next 10 years. That means, if you do the math, for every person not counted this year, Forest Park will lose $14,000 during the next decade.

“In the 2010 Census,” Marin said, “a million children up to the age of 5 did not get counted nationwide. The numbers are astronomical, but it means that billions of dollars have been lost for programs like health care, free lunches and Head Start.”

Marin said it is in the interest of every Illinois resident to be counted because representation in the U.S. Congress is determined by the results of the census. Because of a net loss in population, she said, Illinois is probably going to lose one representative and maybe two. We don’t want to lose any more.

In their education programs, PASO presenters provide a timeline. On March 12, every household in Illinois will begin receiving notifications from the Census Bureau with a unique code which can be used to go online and fill out the census or do it by phone using the same code. If by the end of April, residents have not responded, the Census Bureau will start contacting them, and after six unsuccessful attempts they will send an enumerator, as they are called, to knock on your door.

Marin declared, “If you are an immigrant who doesn’t want someone from the government knocking on your door, fill out the census and send it in.”

In the end, she concluded, it’s not only about money or programs. 

“This is about our humanity,” declared Marin. “We count as individuals. It is important that we achieve increased visibility as an important part of our society.”

PASO is located at 3415 W. North Avenue, Suite D in Melrose Park and can be reached at 708-410-2000 or on their Facebook page at facebook.com/pasoaction.