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Columbus Organizers Worry Early End To 2020 Census Will Leave Many Uncounted

Houleye Thiam, a Mauritanian immigrant, is working to educate Columbus' African community about the 2020 Census.
Gabe Rosenberg
Houleye Thiam, a Mauritanian immigrant, is working on collecting U.S. Census responses from the city's African immigrants.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced last week it will cut short its in-person data collection efforts. Instead of sending workers to knock on doors through October, the agency will call it quits at the end of September. 

Local groups trying to encourage census responses, especially among harder-to-count populations, are scrambling as the deadline approaches sooner than expected.

In Columbus, organizers like Houleye Thiam have been working on outreach to immigrant and refugee communities.

“Things are pretty low in terms of the numbers that I know, especially in the immigrant community," Thiam says. "We have not had the kind of response that we want. So I would say that things are not where we want them to be at this point.”

Thiam, who is Mauritanian, has focused her efforts on that community, and cautions she can only speak from that experience. Still, Thiam says many residents have found it difficult to complete the 2020 Census.

“The issue has been people actually being able to go online and complete the survey or the census forms as they’re supposed to,” Thiam says. “A lot of people didn’t go to school, some people don’t have computer access, and explaining that from a distance to someone has been pretty tough.”

She notes COVID-19 hasn’t made the task any easier. Not only is the virus dominating residents’ attention, but it’s making in-person assistance less likely.

To get an accurate count, Thiam says the biggest thing organizers are pushing for is simple: more time.

“The reality is this deadline is not going to be enough to get the kind of response we need,” she says.