A large coalition of community and immigrant rights organizations will be carrying an urgent message across the North and South Forks today, Sept. 17: Stand up and be counted in the 2020 Census! Time is running out!

The Census 2020 Caravan will be two separate streams of cars leaving at the same time Thursday morning, from Greenport and from Southampton, spreading the news to families along the way.

The two streams of the caravan will converge in Riverhead for a rally and celebration to stress the importance of completing the Census, united behind the message that an accurate count of every person is the only way for the community to receive what it deserves: accurate political representation and adequate government funding.

Caravan riders will demand that elected officials on the East End respect and reach out to all of their constituents to make sure they are counted.

“The East End has one of the lowest Census response rates in New York State,” said Martha Maffei, executive director of SEPA Mujer, one of several organizations that have been working for months to increase awareness of the Census on eastern Long Island, particularly in immigrant communities.

Maffei and other organizers urge the East End’s elected representatives — members of Congress, senators, legislators and town officials — to do more in the short time remaining to promote the Census.

“While we appreciate that some town governments have shown some support, we would like to see all East End elected officials really speaking out regularly about the importance of census participation for the people they represent,” says Ms. Maffei.

As of Sept. 9, just 39.1 percent of Southampton residents had responded to the census, 32.5 percent of East Hampton residents, 39.9 percent of Southold residents and 59.7 percent of Riverhead residents.

Your Census response can be filed online at my2020census.gov. All responses must be filed by next Wednesday, Sept. 30.

The East End’s resort and semi-rural character contribute to the low numbers, with many homeowners not occupying their homes year-round and not filling out the Census form. And immigrants in particular are often excluded from the count.

While many immigrant residents understand the importance of the
census and have already filled out the form, some may be reluctant to participate because they do not understand how important — and essential — it is to fill out the Census. They may also fear that participating could lead to harassment, or worse, from federal immigration enforcement.

“For months many organizations have been publicly emphasizing the safety and confidentiality of the process,” says Sandra Dunn, associate director of OLA of Eastern Long Island. W”e’ve stressed that all Census Bureau
employees are forbidden by law to share the information on the questionnaire with any other government agency and that the information is used solely to create statistics. We would like to see local officials sending this same message loud and clear—through bilingual PSAs and robocalls. Time is of the essence.”

“There are potentially dire consequences should the rates of Census undercounting on the East End remain so terribly low by the end of the Census count on September 30,” says Professor Carolyn Peabody from Stony Brook University, Co-Chair, North Fork Unity Action Committee & Co-coordinator. “In addition to losing adequate political representation, we will receive funding for schools, hospitals, college aid, school lunches, road repair and so much more far below what we need and are due based on the number of people we actually have living here.”

“We are urging all to respond to the census, because it is a doable, easy thing to do that will benefit our community for the next 10 years,” says Sister Mary Beth Moore, Director, Centro Corazón de María “Every family can do this, regardless of their status; the census bureau is obligated by law to protect your information. Don’t give up your shot!”

The North Fork caravan departs St. Agnes Church at 523 Front Street in Greenport and South Fork caravans depart Sacred Hearts Church at 168 Hill Street in Southampton and Good Ground Park at 9 Squiretown Road in Hampton Bays at 9:30 a.m., meeting at 11 a.m. for a rally at the Riverhead County Center at 310 Center Drive South. Participants can register their cars here.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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