Mother Jones


The 2020 census will shape the future of our democracy. The Trump administration is working to make that future whiter and more conservative.

Jorge Sanjuan pulled back a chain-link fence, and Cindy Quezada squeezed through the gap. They stepped over two rotting mattresses and an old tire and peered into a backyard. The neighbors eyed them suspiciously. “You guys with ICE?” one teenager asked.

Quezada laughed and shook her head. It was a sunny January afternoon, and she and Sanjuan had spent the past three hours crisscrossing the alleys of a Fresno, California, neighborhood with small one-story bungalows and Mexican restaurants, looking for sheds, garages, and trailers serving as makeshift homes. They weren’t out to harass the immigrants living there; they were there to count them.

Quezada and Sanjuan were working with the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, a network of organizations embarking on a pilot program to identify “low-visibility housing” in Fresno in preparation for the 2020 census. The Constitution requires the executive branch to tally “the whole number of persons in each state.” But every 10 years, the census counts some people more than once—such as wealthy Americans who own multiple homes—and others not at all, particularly those who are poorer, move often, or fear the government. The 2010 census, the most accurate to date, overcounted white residents by nearly 1 percent while failing to count 1.5 million people of color, including 1.5 percent of Hispanics, 2.1 percent of blacks, and 4.9 percent of Native Americans on reservations, the Census Bureau later concluded. Mexican immigrants were especially undercounted because the bureau didn’t know where they lived or because multiple families lived in one household.

That’s why Quezada and Sanjuan were in Fresno, where 70 percent of residents are people of color, 20 percent are immigrants, and one-third live in poverty, making it one of the hardest places in the country to count. Only 73 percent of residents in the east Fresno neighborhood they were canvassing mailed back their census forms in 2010—if they ever received them in the first place.

Quezada and Sanjuan are both immigrants, but with very different backgrounds. Quezada, who is in her late 30s, fled war-torn El Salvador with her family in the 1980s after her father got a university research job in California. She has a doctorate in biology from the California Institute of Technology and worked for the State Department in Washington and the US Agency for International Development in Egypt before returning home and eventually taking a job with the collaborative. She wore a stylish tweed blazer and skinny jeans as she roamed the alleys and enthusiastically took photos of everything she saw, including a dead rat. Sanjuan, 43, came from Mexico when he was 17, and since then he’s barely left California and hasn’t attended school, apart from English-language classes. He wore a black “CA” baseball cap and a blue T-shirt. Having remodeled many unconventional structures as a construction worker, he was an expert at spotting hidden housing. Quezada compiled the data.

A rooster darted from roof to roof. A canine symphony arose from behind the fences. “There should be a census for dogs,” Quezada remarked. Behind

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Mother Jones

Mother Jones3 min readNutrition
The Fault In Our Starch
OF ALL THE INSULTS that greenhouse gases hurl at our food supply—a warming climate that triggers more severe droughts and floods in key agriculture regions like the Midwest and California, declining yields of staple crops—the most insidious may invol
Mother Jones13 min readPolitics
All The Rage
DAN CRENSHAW started off as a joke. On the last episode of Saturday Night Live before the 2018 election, Pete Davidson was rifling through headshots of candidates when he got to the 35-year-old retired Navy SEAL from the Houston area. “You may be sur
Mother Jones8 min read
The Grueling Class
STOICISM BEGINS with a wayward merchant. Legend has it that in 312 B.C. a dye salesman named Zeno was shipwrecked in the Aegean Sea. He washed ashore in Athens, read a book of Socratic dialogues, and found philosophical purpose. His brush with misfor