The Supreme Court Should Take a Field Trip to California

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

CERES, Calif. — Last weekend, 3,000 miles west of the marble edifices of the nation’s capital, Cindy Quezada, the field research leader for the San Joaquin Valley Census Research Project, was wending her way past false-eyelash vendors, mountains of chiles and peanuts, bright jumbles of farm-worker bandannas and triumphal displays of booty-lifting jeans. She and a colleague, Jorge San Juan, were at El Rematito, a popular flea market, to talk with fellow immigrants about their willingness to participate in “el censo” — the 2020 census.

Only a few days later, on Wednesday, President Trump blocked the release of documents about that census. His administration has added a question about citizenship to it, and the House Oversight Committee wants to know why. Democrats believe that the move is an attempt to frighten immigrants into avoiding the census — and indeed, it could lead to an estimated 6.5 million people not being counted. That could cause states with big immigrant populations like California to lose House seats and money for everything from infrastructure to food stamps. A challenge to it has gone all the way to the Supreme Court, and a decision is expected any day now.

El Rematito flea market is presumably little-traveled by Supreme Court justices. But they might want to give it a try. Because if anywhere in America will be harmed by the 2020 census, it is here in the San Joaquin Valley, where about half of the 4.2 million people are Hispanic.

Ms. Quezada, who has a Ph.D. in biology, left El Salvador with her family in the 1980s and became an American citizen in her early 20s. She worked for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development in Egypt before logging 9,338 miles for the census research project. She has an upbeat, easygoing manner that puts people at ease. Since last fall, she and her team have had conversations and held focus groups in 31 communities with some of the country’s most overlooked and vulnerable people — the so-called hard to count. They hope to harness what they’ve learned to devise better strategies for census outreach.