Proposed question about citizenship status in the 2020 Census concerns immigrant rights advocates |

Proposed question about citizenship status in the 2020 Census concerns immigrant rights advocates

Deepan Dutta

In 2020, the United States Census Bureau will conduct its once-a-decade census survey of the American population. Hundreds of millions of Americans will provide critical data used for everything from drawing congressional district lines to allocating public health funding.

However, the Trump administration's proposal to add a census question about citizenship status is being met with heavy opposition from immigrant rights advocates, who say that the move will discourage large parts of the immigrant community from participating for fear of the information being used against them.

In December, the Department of Justice made an official request to the census bureau to add a question to the 2020 census regarding citizenship. Critics of the proposal contend that it is politically motivated and part of President Trump's tough immigration stance. The DOJ contends that citizenship data is needed to better protect civil rights through enforcement of the Voting Rights Act.

Sarah McAfee, spokeswoman for the immigrant and public health advocacy group Center for Health Progress, said the census has a big impact on everyday life.

"Population and demographic data decides how we allocate funds across state and local governments, allocate congressional representation, how we calculate health disparities and it determines what our priority areas are to study and fund for research," McAfee said.

Judy Phillips, an immigrant rights advocate from Bethany Immigration Services in Frisco, was a census taker for the bureau 20 years ago, and said that it was already a challenge to convince immigrants to participate in the census.

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"We urged immigrants to take the survey, telling them the information wouldn't be used against them," Phillips said. "But if you add a question like that to the census, the immigrant communities will learn about it quickly. I guarantee you that many of them will not respond to the census if that question is added."

McAfee said that immigrant response rates are a critical method of determining allocation of social and fiscal resources to help those communities, but this administration's policies have already pushed people into the shadows.

"We already have a situation where it is incredibly dangerous for people without documentation to identify themselves to the government, documented or not," McAfee said. She added that efforts to build trust and outreach in immigrant communities will be severely impacted. "Any trust that did exist has been very broken," she said.

Lower immigrant representation in census data can have a slew of negative effects for certain communities. California, for example, may lose billions of dollars of federal aid and a congressional seat if many of the estimated 27 percent of its foreign-born population avoid responding to the census.

Tamara Drangstveit, executive director of the Family and Intercultural Resource Center, said that immigrant participation in the census is critical for Summit and the social service funding available to the county.

"I can't think of a single example of a funding structure that doesn't relate to census data," Drangstveit said. "We already know that in Summit County, the entire group of immigrants, documented or undocumented, is already undercounted."

Drangstveit added that the rest of Summit would also suffer from immigrant underrepresentation in the census.

"This shouldn't even be a political issue," she said. "As a small resort community, we already get penalized on a lot of these funding mechanisms because our cost of living is so high. We can't afford to be underreported among the working population, or it'll make the situation worse in bigger ways."

Questions for the census must be finalized by March 31, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, a Trump appointee, will approve the questions that will be field tested before being asked for the official survey in 2020.