The current political climate and new federal policies could make immigrants reluctant to come forward to be counted in the 2020 Census, Secretary of State William Galvin said Thursday.
Testifying at a hearing on Gov. Charlie Baker's $40.5 billion budget, Galvin said he is "very, very concerned" about the challenge of counting immigrants to get a full picture of the number of people living in the state.
"When you have the additional rhetoric and anxiety that's been out there, let's face it, over the last month we've seen people who are legally present, green card holders, who have been anxious about their status in the country," Galvin told reporters. "You're now going to run up to them and say, 'Hi, I'm from the federal government, will you tell us where you live?' I mean, I don't think so. It's going to be a challenge and I'm very worried about it."
Galvin said it has "always been a challenge" to count the state's immigrant population, but travel restrictions instituted by President Donald Trump and other actions at the federal level could make it more difficult in the future.
Without an accurate count, the census numbers used to determine congressional representation and levels of federal funding could be inadequate, he said.
"These are folks who are using public transportation, they are using public transportation, they're using public safety," Galvin said. "Why shouldn't we get credit, dollars, from the federal government for the folks that are here? We should. It's our fair share to reflect what we're actually expending and using, so we have to make sure that they're counted."
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Galvin requested an additional $350,000 for census data technical assistance, an account Baker funded at $399,960. He said his office needs the money now because this is the only year the federal government allows municipalities and states to correct and add data to the fields of addresses that will be used to send out census-takers in 2020.
Galvin said his office will work with immigrant advocacy groups to encourage people to participate. "Having said that, it's certainly going to be a lot more difficult than it was 10 years ago," he said.
After the 2010 Census, Massachusetts lost one congressional seat after experiencing a population growth rate of 3.1 percent over the first decade of the 21st century. The 2010 Census measured the state's total population at 6,547,629. Census data released in 2015 found the state's population has grown since then, rising by nearly a quarter of a million people to 6,794,422.
"I think the census in 2020 is going to be a defining matter for our state," Galvin told the Ways and Means Committee. "We have been in sort of a nip-and-tuck with Washington state for representation. I don't want to hold out hope that we're going to get a Congressional seat back, but when you look at the raw numbers, it's damn close."
Galvin said planning and preparation for the 2020 Census is underway, with a March 23 meeting in Sturbridge expected to attract local officials and federal government representatives.