Executive Summary

As Latinx and immigrant communities continue to grow across the country and here in the Mid-Atlantic region, these communities represent an increasingly integral part of the American story. Everywhere CASA works, from the DC and Baltimore metropolitan regions to second and third class cities in the capital regions of Virginia and Pennsylvania, and rural communities in Virginia’s coastal areas, immigrants are a critical and growing – but frequently overlooked – part of the community. Chronic undercounting of immigrant populations has led to billions of public dollars held back from our communities to pay for critical services, and stands to systematically devalue and render invisible the contributions of our community. For the sake of our democracy, this cannot continue. CASA’s census campaign effort targeted some of the hardest to count populations across our region in an effort to bring working class immigrant and Latinx communities into the public eye where they could not be ignored. A complete count of all members of our community would be a stepping stone towards immigrant and Latino communities receiving the public resources and representation that they deserve.  In a time when immigrants,  Latinx, and working class communities in general have been undervalued, under resourced, and discounted in the public narrative, it is more critical than ever that our communities are counted. We will not be invisible.  We count. 

“No somos uno, no somos cien, somos millones, cuéntanos bien”

Setting the Stage for a
Complete Count

CASA’s census work began in June of 2018, when our organization signed on as one of five organizational plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the US Department of Commerce to block the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census.  Prior to filing the lawsuit, CASA consulted with our member leaders, several of whom were deposed and served as spokespeople throughout the campaign.  By the time the Supreme Court ultimately ruled one year later in late June 2019, CASA had already held dozens of community conversations with immigrant members across our geography, consulting with directly impacted communities about how comfortable they would feel completing a census form if it included a question about citizenship, if it did not include a question about citizenship, and what messages worked best to motivate them to take action and complete their census form.

While our members decisively told us that we should do everything we could to prevent the question from being added, they also told us that whether or not the question was included, the reason that most compelled them to fill out their census form was that they were sick and tired of being invisible. The idea that when Latinx and immigrant communities fill out the census in mass numbers, the power  of their collective voice would not only be seen, but heard and respected, was a primary driver in motivating members of these historically undercounted communities to overcome fears and logistical barriers to being counted. As our campaign slogan “#SiTeCuentanCuentas” (“If they count you, you count”) emerged from these conversations, CASA’s marching orders were clear: we needed to launch a campaign that would reach the hardest to count immigrant and Latinx populations across our footprint.

“No somos uno, no somos cien, somos millones, cuéntanos bien”

We needed to ensure that not only did these communities have the information about how, when, and why to fill out the census form, but that they were motivated  to take that step out of the shadows, overcome their fears, and ensure that their community was no  longer invisible. To do that work, CASA recruited an army of community messengers, (aka “promotores”) from the very communities we were seeking to get counted, and applied core organizing principles – early, consistent, and sustained outreach and engagement, connecting personal struggles with power building civic engagement and issue organizing, and leadership development – igniting the thousands of sparks in individuals to not only be counted but to engage their friends and family. In a census year already marked by uncertainty and sweeping changes – from the citizenship question, shift to digital census forms, and dramatic reduction in federal budget allocation, it was clear that we needed to build on the power and wisdom of our own member leaders and use every available tactic and resource at our disposal to ensure a complete count.

CASA’s Program Design: 16 months, 4 phases, 3 states

Based on this charge, CASA designed and implemented a  multilayered census and democracy campaign around the 2020 census targeting Latinx and immigrant residents in Hard To Count communities in PA, MD, and VA, through four phases of engagement: 

1. Census Education

2. Census Engagement

3. Census Assistance

4. Targeted Follow Up in low self response areas

In addition, CASA followed up with all individuals reached through the census effort to engage them in  issue advocacy to help people engaged through the census work to connect the census, redistricting, and issue campaign work.

Our program was built around existing CASA member leaders – supporting them to host house meetings, serve as spokespeople for our communications and digital campaigns, join our field outreach team as “promotores”, and our  relational outreach team engaging their own family and friends using the EMPOWER relational organizing tool. Our goal was to start as early as possible in the fall of 2019 in order to ensure that we were the first messengers knocking on their door or showing up in their social media feeds so that we could have the time to listen and engage residents and establish a relationship with them as a trusted messenger on this issue. While program start and scaling dates varied slightly by state based on timing of availability funding, our program followed this same model in all three states.

CASA noted the following results during the census campaign:

Phase 1: Census Education (July-September 2019)

Organizers held 113 workshops and house meetings hosted by community activists with 2462 community members to educate them about the census and test messaging for how to best talk about the census in various communities.

Phase 2: Census Engagement (October 2019-March 2020)

Promoters began a door to door campaign in five counties in PA, 6 counties in MD, and 2 in VA,  knocking on 57,330 doors, having 11,108 conversations, and collecting 7576 digital pledges to be counted from households covering 34,092 individuals.
CASA sent 45,340 follow up text messages to residents engaged during this phase. 
CASA digital campaign launched during this phase featuring “Lucas”, an animated young Latino boy who starred in a series of educational videos throughout our campaign to provide education about how and why to complete the census in Spanish and in English, reaching 2,546,093 impressions.

Phase 3: Census Assistance (March 2020-June 2020)

Promoters shifted to a phone campaign during this phase due to COVID, and made 269,305 follow up calls, having conversations with 63,261  individuals reminding them to complete the census.
We also conducted a follow up text sweep, sending 514,555 texts to 244,248 individuals during this phase.
We launched a relational organizing census campaign during this period, enlisting 17 promoters to reach out to 1163 family and friends via text, whatsapp, or facebook messengers to be able to
During this phase, we confirmed that 32,606 individuals that we had engaged had completed the census and assisted another 21,597 individuals in filling out their census form.
Our Digital campaign continued during this phase, with an increased focus in the “how to” fill out your census form including answers to frequently asked questions that promoters were identifying through their virtual outreach, reaching 1,844,626 impressions.

Phase 4: Targeted follow up to low response areas (July 2020-October 2020)

Targeted Digital Ads by geography (Langley Park, Harrisburg, Baltimore City) viewed by 419,218 individuals on social media.
Follow up calls to support additional targets outside of our original target areas to support statewide effort (Norfolk, Richmond)
Door to door census assistance in Langley Park, Hyattsville, and Baltimore City.

French and English door to door and phone canvass to African immigrant neighborhoods in Montgomery County, MD.

A Deeper Dive: Tactics and Results by State and County

CASA Census Outreach by Tactic

Total Direct Outreach to 657,269 households

Digital Tactics reached an additional 5.4 Million individuals

CASA Census Outreach Results

Of 624,984 households reached out to directly, CASA promoters engaged 77,300 people and 60,311 took action by signing a census pledge, completing their census form with support from CASA, or becoming a member of CASA.

CASA Census Actions

Census Comparison Results by County

Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania ranked 5th, 9th, and 16th nationally in statewide self response rates. All of the counties where CASA worked ended the self response period at rates above their statewide average (with the exception of Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, MD). In June, when our programs had already pivoted to remote outreach due to covid-19, thus making a wider geographic area possible for outreach, we added the Virginia cities of Norfolk and Richmond. These four areas, plus the city of Harrisburg (Dauphin county)  were the focus of additional follow up outreach in the months of August and September ,and each saw a gain of several percentage points during the final weeks of counting.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

In designing our census outreach program, we initially envisioned the phone, relational, text, and digital tactics as layers on top of a more traditional field program consisting of door to door and site based outreach, census assistance kiosks, and in person events.   With COVID-19 hitting just ahead of census forms being mailed to households, we were forced to reimagine our program design to focus exclusively on virtual tactics during the third phase of the campaign, from March 15th through the end of June. We quickly learned that these tactics were much more effective as follow up nudges to individuals who we had already spoken to in person, and that building a list from scratch using only virtual tactics was challenging – particularly when we were trying to target the hardest to count communities including immigrant and limited English speaking household, many of whom had lived in the US for less than 10 years and never filled out a census form before. With increased reliance on virtual tactics due to the pandemic, two key lessons learned were 1) the importance of video and interactive social media and relational tactics in helping to answer questions about the census and particularly how and when to fill it out. These tactics got much higher engagement rates than one way digital ads. 2) Messengers are critical – In particular we noticed a very high engagement rate in our relational organizing program, where our promoters and members were reaching out to their own family and friend networks.

With the census self-response period overlapping with the first wave of job losses, COVID hospitalizations, and resulting housing and food insecurity hitting the Latinx communities hardest across our footprint, we also needed to be flexible to acknowledge these very real and urgent needs, even in conversations about the census, and be innovative in our tactics by integrating flyers, information, and conversations about the census into our rapidly emerging and scaling food delivery, solidarity fund, housing assistance, health navigation services programs.

Despite these challenges our program was successful in reaching hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania’s hardest to count residents. The strength of the program was in it’s longevity – starting earlier made it easier to develop a relationship with community members and follow up with them using multiple tactics, as well as its flexibility. By having geographic field teams that could easily flex between doors to phones to texting, and who were responsible for the same group of contacts through various tactics, it was easier to build trust needed to move people to action. In retrospect, launching our relational campaign earlier could have been a huge asset, since we did not go into the field in person after March 15th due to the pandemic. If we had built a bigger list of promoters to be outreaching to family and friends earlier, this tool would have been more effective in reaching a larger audience. Our digital content also received a huge amount of organic share, and highlighted the importance of culturally and linguistically accessible digital content featuring trusted messengers in reaching and engaging audiences online.

Changing the Narrative: From “Hard-to-Count” to “PRESENTE”

Throughout the census campaign, CASA strove to change the narrative, encouraging working class immigrant and Latinx residents to see their families and their communities as powerful and deserving of recognition, resources, and representation and to see themselves as protagonists in that story, agents of positive change capable of taking concrete steps to harness the power of their own community. We also worked to lift this messaging in the public narrative, which had been dominated in recent years with narrative of immigrants as victims at best and criminals at worst, an intentional effort to discount, segregate, and intentionally discredit immigrant and particularly Latinx and African immigrant communities. This narrative work is not only built into our program design, which is centered around community “promotores” as the primary trusted messengers throughout all of our tactics, but also into both our internal and external messages. From our house meeting agenda to our door to door script to our digital campaign featuring both actual CASA members and animated characters, our consistent message throughout the campaign was one of positive affirmation of the power of personal and collective action.

Promoters were trained to talk about issues first, engaging their neighbors about their hopes and their fears, and connecting those individual problems with solutions in the form of collective action – of filling out the census, being counted, and joining CASA to continue to fight for solutions to the challenges and obstacles faced by Latinx and immigrant communities.

CASA’s external narrative work included traditional communications work around both lawsuit efforts, a multistate press launch event in January 2020, a press event with the second lady of PA, Giselle Fetterman, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and dozens of national, state, and local Spanish and English language outlets shadowing our promoters and featuring our program.

CASA’s digital census education campaign targeted Spanish and English speaking Latinx households in the counties listed above. CASA ran 166 unique digital organic and paid ads during the peak period of February through April, including a video series featuring “Lucas”, an animated Latino boy who educated his family members about why and how to fill out their census forms in a series of spanish language animated videos reminiscent of the “telenovela” genre. Over 56,000 people interacted with these posts, including 900 organic shares. CASA also targeted an additional 88 organic posts and paid ads to the same households during the second phase of April-June 2020 resulting in more than 1900 post interactions and 248 shares, and ran a third, more narrow set of 21 organic posts and paid ads targeting Latinx households in specific municipalities whose census self response rate was below the statewide average in August-October. Here are links to the highest performing posts, each of which reached over 250,000 viewers:

Census as an onramp to Civic Engagement and Membership

In addition to ensuring a complete count of Latinx and Immigrant households in historically undercounted communities and changing the dominant narrative around immigrants vis a vis the census,  CASA had an internal goal of expanding our member and activist base. The conversations we were already having with folks about the census were the same kind of conversations core to our organizing and member recruitment work: identifying issues that members and potential members care about, and generally using an initial conversation about the census as an onramp into more long term civic engagement and issue organizing campaigns with CASA. In Pennsylvania, for example, CASA was able to layer conversations about voting, voting by mail, and redistricting on top of the same universe of Latinx and immigrant households that we had spoken with about the census.  In all three states, we identified issues during census outreach that have already proven critical to our issue campaign work, as the pandemic fast tracked already simmering concerns about housing affordability, evictions, and access to health care.

As we began talking with thousands of people just like our members during the first and second phases of our census campaign, we integrated the idea of membership and an invitation to become a member into every interaction. 

At CASA, the core of our organization is our members - over 107,000 lifetime members who have committed to a shared vision and values and dedicated resources toward that end.  Our members identify our campaign priorities and serve on every decision making body in the organization.

Long term member leaders hosted house parties to talk about the census and encourage friends and family to join CASA as members, and promoters identified people interested in learning more about membership during their door to door outreach – frequently passing “hot leads” on to permanent organizing staff who would follow up to recruit the person as a member and engage them in upcoming member committee meetings or campaign activities, and occasionally recruiting  monthly sustaining members right there at the door in the first interaction with potential member.  Promoters and organizers alike grew through this process, and got more comfortable talking about the power of collective action, drawing the lines between getting counted in the census and becoming a member of CASA to keep fighting for our community.  In total during the campaign, promoters recruited 170 sustaining members and identified 800 “hot leads” for follow up about annual membership and campaign activities.

Defending the Complete Count

After an intense 15 month campaign of census education, outreach, and assistance targeting immigrant and Latinx communities, when the Trump administration announced plans to direct the department of commerce from excluding immigrants counted in the 2020 census in the final counts used for purposes of redistricting, CASA responded immediately, bringing dozens of directly impacted members to Washington to speak out against the change and filing an additional lawsuit challenging the administrative action. Oral arguments at the Supreme Court in that lawsuit, in which CASA is represented by the ACLU and Arnold and Porter, were held on November 30th 2020, and we expect the court to rule by early January. Regardless of the outcome, CASA will continue to fight to include ALL residents and also to protect the confidentiality of  individual census responses.

Next Steps: Redistricting

With an accurate count should also come fairly drawn political districts that ensure that all people have elected representatives who understand the challenges, goals, and values of their community. Regardless of the outcome of the pending lawsuit  concerning Congressional redistricting, CASA is planning the next phase of our civic engagement work in both Pennsylvania and Virginia in the state level redistricting work, slated to begin in early 2021. While the final timelines will be triggered by release of final data by the Census Bureau, the work to educate and engage community members – many of them the very same people that we educated engaged about the census itself – will begin in winter and spring of 2020.  In our conversations with Latinx and Immigrant community members throughout the census campaign,  many people articulated a feeling that government didn’t represent their community, that the people making decisions in Harrisburg, Annapolis, and Richmond did not come from their community or may not even know that a significant Latinx community existed in their district.
Planning and initial steps are already underway, and starting in early 2021,  CASA organizers will begin the next phase of community education and conversations about what representation means, and the role of redistricting in that process, encouraging community members to reimagine what that process and structure could look like. Our goal in this phase will be to engage these community members and to facilitate  learning more about the redistricting process and laws are for each state using popular education methodologies grounded in and accessible to the diverse experiences of Latinx nd immigrant communities across our footprint.

Thank you

We are so proud of the work we’ve accomplished together and we could not have done any of it without the courage and dedication of our immigrant, Latino, and working class members, the tireless work of our staff and hundreds of volunteers, and the generous support of our incredible funding partners and hundreds of community supporters. The resources, time, expertise, and love you put into this project sent a very clear message to our immigrant friends and neighbors: You are a vital part of this community. You matter. You count.

A very special thank you to all of our partners, including these key allies:

Keystone Counts, Virginia Civic Engagement Table, Pennsylvania Governor’s Complete Count Commision, Virginia Governor’s Complete Count Committee, Maryland Complete Count Committee, States Count coalition, PA Voice, Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy. Local Complete Count Committees in: Baltimore City, Fairfax County, Prince George’s County, City of Hyattsville, City of Mt Rainier, Montgomery County(MD), Prince William County, Lancaster City, York City.