CHICAGO (WLS) -- From billions of dollars of federal funding to Congressional seats, there's a lot at stake as Illinois prepares for the 2020 census.
While adults must fill out the census, officials said children, especially the children of immigrants, can play a key role.
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Mia Ortega, 15, listened intently to speakers explaining the importance of the census Wednesday. She and her friends are planning to take the message back to their community, especially the immigrant community.
"A lot of people now are afraid to take the census," Ortega said. "They're afraid they'll be shipped back to their hometown."
Other teens said it was important to spread the message about the census, but especially the Latino community to make sure they're not afraid.
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Census officials said it's often children who can help their older relatives understand they have nothing to fear from census takers. Governor JB Prtizker said Illinois is spending some $29 million, more than any other state, trying to educate residents on the importance of participating in the census.
"Here in Illinois we're a welcoming state," Pritzker said. He said the state will protect its residents, which is why they're working so hard to get the message out.
"We need to rely on trusted messengers to talk to their parents," said Oswaldo Alvarez, Illinois Census Director.
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Oregon High School in Ogle County has 3,721 students, who are worth about $1,800 each in federal funding. So are the 2.7 million people who live in the city of Chicago. That's why making sure every resident of the state is counted is so crucial.
"We think we can make a big difference," said Paige Beachem, 16-year-old student.
This is the first year the US Census Bureau is making the forms available online. State officials are expecting Illinois population numbers to decrease again this year, and said it's possible the state could lose two Congressional seats.
Officials encourage children to help older relatives complete 2020 census
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