Latino leaders and democratic lawmakers, including Senator Richard Blumenthal and Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, are opposing a proposed addition to the pivotal 2020 Census of a citizenship question, which they say could push Latinos deeper into the political shadows. At issue is the Trump Administration’s determination to have every respondent in the decennial national head count reveal if they are a U.S. citizen.
The Department of Justice has asked the Census Bureau to add the citizenship inquiry to the 2020 questionnaire, which is in its final stages of formulation, claiming this information is needed to enforce voting rights and to deal with suspected racial discrimination in voting. The Census Bureau faces a March 31 deadline to decide whether it will include the question on the 2020 Census
Opponents of this effort contend it is ill-timed because it comes less than three months before the Bureau must submit its final questionnaire to Congress and would waste millions of taxpayer dollars to implement. They stress that the citizenship question, if implemented, would depress the count among Hispanics, immigrants and non-citizens by intensifying their already heightened fear about the intentions of a government they see as unfriendly.
“This is blatant attempt to suppress census participation,” Blumenthal said.
By not responding, Latinos, who already tend to be under-counted, would decrease the Census tally for their communities and states. Not responding, however, would be counter-productive because, every ten years the Census determines the allocation of about $700 billion in federal funds annually, the allocation of congressional seats and the redistricting of state legislatures.
The U.S. Census question impacts elections because legislative representation is based on population ” Adding a citizenship question to the census would hamstring fair elections and distort critical federal assistance to states based on population for decades to come,” said Blumenthal. “We should not stand for this attack on our democratic values,” the Connecticut senator said.
In addition to Blumenthal, other leading critics of the DOJ proposal include Hispanic congressional members, such as U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, as well other senior Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Larson of Connecticut and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
Larson has been watching this “very concerning issue” for several months, said a spokesperson for the Democrat recently. Larson’s congressional district includes much of Hartford County where some 22,000 of the state’s more than 110,000 undocumented immigrants live.
Larson also recently signed onto a letter opposing the citizenship question that three Democratic members of the House; Reps. Luis Gutierrez and New York Reps. Jose E. Serrano and Carolyn B. Maloney, drafted and sent January 18 to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The Gutierrez letter describes the DOJ request as an “attack on civil rights” that would “push immigrant communities even deeper into the shadows.”
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund also is expressing concern about the likely impact of the citizenship question. “A fair and accurate census is a pivotal civil rights issue for the nation’s second largest population group (Hispanics) and all Americans,” according to Arturo Vargas, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy organization, in which several Connecticut state representatives are active.
Also weighing into this controversy, opponents claim, is political motivation: Trump received only 18 percent of the Latino vote in the 2016 presidential election. Targeting the non-citizen population correlates with Trump’s claim that the reason he did not win the popular vote in 2016 is that non-citizens voted, said Dr. Charles Senator Santiago, a University of Connecticut associate professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Political Science and El Instituto: Institute for Latina/o, Caribbean and Latin American Studies.
The Justice Department in a December letter to the Census Bureau said it needs the citizenship information because of provisions in the Voting Rights Act that prohibit racial discrimination in voting. “To fully enforce those requirements, the Department needs a reliable calculation of the citizen voting-age population in localities where voting rights violations are alleged or suspected,” DOJ said.
However, Vargas said this type of information is already available through the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is conducted periodically, but unlike the all-inclusive decennial census covers about 3 million households.
Vargas also provided anecdotal evidence that the citizenship question would likely heighten already widespread anxiety about the Census and diminish its validity. Census Bureau field representatives conducting other surveys and experiments have reported that they are encountering unprecedented fear among test respondents, the NALEO leader said.
“Adding a question on citizenship at this time,” Vargas asserted, “will further exacerbate such fear and distrust in the Census, further risking an inaccurate count. Americans are increasingly losing faith in the ability of the government to protect their private information, and the addition of an untested question on citizenship would sabotage any chance of having a successful Census.”
“Since the adoption of the 14th Amendment,” Vargas said, “the Constitution has mandated that all persons “regardless of race, citizenship or legal status” be included in the count that is conducted of the American people every 10 years.”
How well the Census, which for the first time will largely be conducted online, tallies non-citizens also could determine which states lose or gain seats in Congress. Heavily Democratic and Hispanic California has the largest concentration of undocumented immigrants, however two red states, Arizona and Texas, also could lose seats if there is a significant under-count of non-citizens, Santiago notes.
There also is the issue of the timing of the DOJ’s request “since the final questionnaire has to be submitted to Congress by April 1 and there is inadequate time to test this inquiry,” Vargas said. “With vigorous research and testing already completed … now is not the time for our nation to devote precious resources towards this misguided and unnecessary pursuit.”
Moreover, the NALEO executive asserted, “The U.S. Census Bureau is already facing an uphill climb, forced to conduct the federal government’s largest civilian mobilization in years with insufficient funding for the task ahead.”