The Lasting Damage The 2020 Census Citizenship Question Could Do

“Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

How will you answer this question when it’s time to complete the 2020 census form?

How do you feel about being asked?

The United States Supreme Court is poised to provide responses to this seemingly innocuous question in a major case that could alter the country’s political landscape for decades.

Last March, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the citizenship question was being added after a request from the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ), supposedly to enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibiting discriminatory voting practices and/or procedures.

The federal government’s justification for the inquiry is so it can better ascertain the nation’s demographics, as is delineated in article one, section two of the Constitution.

Behind Ross’ announcement, however, is none other than Kris Kobach, former Kansas Secretary of State, the mastermind behind the racist voter-purging “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program,” and the one and only former White House adviser, Steve Bannon.

This led to a lawsuit from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, citing the question violates the Constitution and federal laws. Several states followed suit in an attempt to get the question eliminated on the grounds it aims to deter immigrants from responding, thereby affecting state and local funds and redrawing congressional district maps the Census is used to determine.

But the nation’s highest court–or at least its 5-4 conservative majority–indicated during arguments on Tuesday it plans to grant the Trump administration the green light.

The impacts of such a measure are potentially devastating.

For example, take a heavily populated state like California, which is home to millions of immigrants.

If enough residents choose to abstain from the Census, the state’s population will be undercounted, resulting in fewer congressional seats and less money allocated for infrastructure investments and other public expenditures, like schools, fire departments, police protection, etc.

Professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University, Jennifer Lynne Van Hook, argues:

“If the census counts are biased or flawed, this could affect the number of representatives states have in the House of Representatives…If adding the citizenship question reduces coverage of the foreign-born population, it could reduce the amount of federal and state resources allocated to communities that have large shares of immigrants, and it could also reduce representation of states with large numbers of immigrants.”

But California is, of course, not the only immigrant-rich setting. Every state in the union faces the same consequences simply out of immigrants’ fears of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

But the citizenship question is not the only invidious tactic this administration is employing.

Knowing the Census Bureau requires increased funding for updated technology, such as online responses as opposed to the conventional mailed ones, the Trump administration is making sure the Bureau is starved for necessary finances.

According to Truthout:

“The Trump administration has, in keeping with GOP spending priorities over a number of years, consistently asked for Census Bureau budgets that don’t even begin to keep pace with the financial needs of the Bureau as Census 2020 approaches.”

Trump requested $3.8 billion for the Bureau for the 2019 fiscal year, three billion of which is specifically allocated for the 2020 census.

Wilbur Ross estimates the Census Bureau will need $7 billion.

Experts such as those with The Census Project estimate the Bureau will require over $8 billion to run the upcoming census efficiently.

Ten years ago, the Bureau received $4.2 billion.

This particularly impacts rural areas and less affluent residents who might lack access to reliable home broadband.

Traditionally, higher percentages of white Americans–particularly affluent ones–respond to the census than African American, Asian, Latino, and immigrants.

Even in less tumultuous times, statisticians estimate 2.1 percent of African Americas are undercounted; Latino, 1.5 percent. This is even worse among the poorest of these groups.

Contrast this with a 0.6 percent overcount among homeowners, and a 0.8 percent overcount of whites.

Undercount people already undercounted and they practically disappear.

Census officials already estimate 6.5 million people will not respond to the census if the citizenship question is included.

Which is precisely what the Supreme Court, the GOP, and the Trump administration appear to intend.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the few justices to condemn the question, commented:

“There’s no doubt that people will respond less. If you’re talking about prediction, this is about 100 percent that people will answer less.”

In 2017, a bureau researcher informed a census advisory committee that focus groups and field tests found immigrants reluctant to complete surveys with the citizenship question on it. One respondent fled her home; another moved after an interview with a census employee; others simply lied or stopped answering.

Researchers said these problems didn’t exist four years ago. Now, though, one respondent stated:

“The possibility that the census could give my information to internal security and immigration could come and arrest me for not having documents terrifies me.”

Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing information for 72 years after it’s been collected. According to the Bureau, only an individual identified on the census record or a legal heir can access the information earlier.

Try telling that to people the Trump administration has intimidated with relentless deportation.

The Supreme Court previously ruled that states are permittedto use total population when drawing districts, but they don’t have to.

But perhaps there is something we all can do.

First, fill out our census forms when we receive them next year.

Don’t ignore it; it only makes matters worse.

There is, though, one question perhaps we should ignore.

Image credit: Pixabay

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