Saying a plan to ask about citizenship status on the 2020 Census questionnaire is unconstitutional, advocates for immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities say the question will intimidate respondents and lead to fewer responses among minority groups.
Ethnic and minority advocates are raising alarms about preparations for the 2020 U.S. Census, saying it is already underfunded and understaffed and that a just-added citizenship question has now made it inappropriately political.
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference Education Fund, on Thursday said the $3.8 billion that President Trump has budgeted for the census is $933.5 million short of what is needed to thoroughly and accurately count the nation’s 325 million-plus residents.
She and others are convinced that the 2020 Census will undercount low-income, rural, urban, immigrant, and minority populations, leading to inaccurate distribution of about $800 billion in federal funds for schools, hospitals, police departments, and other resources.
Minority groups are criticizing U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to ask respondents for their citizenship status, saying it will intimidate unauthorized residents to avoid completing the form. For naturalized citizens, the form will also ask where they were born, when they entered the U.S., and what year they became a citizen.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the nonprofit National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said Ross decided to insert the question at the last minute, against the advice of census experts, former census directors and commerce secretaries. The question isn’t on a draft version of the census being test-marketed in Providence County, Rhode Island, for example, so no one knows how residents will react to it.
Although Ross and the Justice Department say the citizenship data is necessary to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the census stopped asking the question on the full census after 1950.
The State of California filed a lawsuit against Ross and the Census Bureau over the question, and on Tuesday, New York and 16 other states – but not Kansas – filed their own lawsuit in an effort to remove the question. New York’s lawsuit also includes seven cities and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“This is a blatant effort to undermine the census,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at a news conference in New York. “Someone from the Trump administration knocking on your door asking about your citizenship status would provoke real fear.” The states and cities contend they risk losing hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money if immigrant populations are undercounted.
The Census Bureau warned last fall, that based on focus groups and pre-testing for the 2020 Census, its staff members were reporting increased fear among immigrants that the information they volunteered would be used against them and their families.
The citizenship question appears in the submitted document, which was obtained by ABC News, and is the second question on the census form (the first question asks a respondent’s age).
In their justification for this question, the department writes a “person’s citizenship is used to create statistics about citizen and noncitizen populations” that are “essential for enforcing the Voting Rights Act and its protections against voting discrimination.”
How and if the question will be amended or stricken is unclear. A lawmaker could propose legislation or an amendment to legislation to make a change but that proposal would have to make its through the normal legislative process, which means passing both chambers of Congress and being signed by the president.
Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said the nation’s Black population has been undercounted and underserved since enslaved peoples were considered three-fifths of their White neighbors.
He said the 2000 and 2010 census data each missed about 1% of the Black population, contributing to inequities in housing, employment, education and other socioeconomic opportunities.
The Urban League has also objected to “prison gerrymandering” on previous census forms, which counted inmates as residents of their prisons instead of where their homes are, Morial said. He said this disproportionately affects African Americans, who comprise 12 percent of the U.S. population but 33% of the prison population.