Latino Organizations Say Citizenship Question Would Hurt 2020 Census

Being counted in the upcoming 2020 US Census is more important than ever for Latinos.

More than 400,000 young Latino children, ages 0-4, were not counted in the 2010 census, according to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO). An undercount in the 2020 census could have a significant impact. More than $700 billion in federal dollars for healthcare, education, childcare, housing, and highway construction are doled out to communities based on their population.

Encouraging the diverse Latino communities to be counted may become more complicated. Pro-immigrant groups are denouncing a “citizenship question” proposed to be added to the census form that could discourage and prevent millions of people from being included in the count.

Immigrant rights groups say undocumented individuals would be hesitant to respond to the census, fearing that any citizenship status information divulged in the document would be used by immigration authorities to deport them or conduct raids.

The US Supreme Court heard arguments for and against adding the question on April 23. Its decision is expected in June.

A Looming Fear

The census has not included a citizenship question since 1950. Some estimate the inclusion of such a question could deter 6 million Latinos from participating (about one of every eight Latinos in the country), including those who are in the process of gaining their citizenship.

Those fears are not unfounded.

Even before and since arriving at the White House, President Donald Trump has continually attacked immigrants and set forth policies meant to exclude and/or deport them. DREAMERs — those seeking conditional, and eventually permanent residency via the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) — saw the federal legislative proposal to give them those protections introduced in 2001 and were encouraged to identify themselves. But the legislation never passed. Those who had publicly identified themselves DREAMERs now find themselves as vulnerable targets in the nationalistic political frenzy whipped up by the Trump Administration.

To counteract this potential obstacle, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) has launched Contamos Contigo, a campaign aimed at reaching 2.7 million Latino residents, immigrants, refugees, and people who are not fluent in English. The campaign will target Los Angeles, Orange County, San Bernardino, the San Fernando and Antelope valleys, the High Desert, and Sacramento.

“We begin this campaign, intentionally, on the eve of the Supreme Court’s citizenship question hearing, because we see this racist policy for what it is and we are fighting it, in the courts and in our neighborhoods,” said Angelica Salas, CHIRLA executive director.

“CHIRLA is a plaintiff in one of three lawsuits brought to put a halt to this proposed policy, and we will be watching the court’s ruling closely. However, we will encourage our community to take part in the census regardless of what the Supreme Court says.”

Other Congressional representatives at CHIRLA’s campaign kickoff urged people to make sure they are counted. 

“Participating in the census is one of the most critical components of our democracy,” said Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-44th District). “The census is a once-in-a-decade chance to ensure our communities get the funding and representation they need and deserve. While the administration continues its efforts to keep people in our communities from counting, we cannot let fear drive us into the shadows.”

“Participating in the 2020 Census sends a strong message to President Trump that despite his best efforts, our immigrant communities will not be silenced or forced into the shadows,” added Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-34th District). 

Counting Children

NALEO has launched ¡Hazme Contar!, a sub-campaign of the Census 2020 Campaign. The campaign provides information, and resources needed to inform their community about the importance of counting all children in the household.

NALEO officials say the census has consistently undercounted Latino children younger than age 5 at a much higher rate than any other age group. Five states — California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and New York— accounted for 72 percent of the national net undercount of young Latinos in 2010.

The undercount of young children means less federal funding for key federal assistance programs. Four such programs — Head Start; the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children; the Child Care and Development Block Grant; and the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant — distribute $20 billion annually, according to the Child Trends Hispanic Institute website, to states and localities based at least in part on census counts of the population under age 5.

“Given the importance of Census 2020 in distributing billions of dollars in federal funding and the allocation of political power to communities across the country for the next 10 years, we cannot afford to once again have hundreds of thousands of Latino children missed in the nation’s decennial count,” stated Arturo Vargas, NALEO Educational Fund chief executive officer.

“A failed count of the nation’s Latino children would mean a failed decennial count for the country.”  

It will be difficult to accurately count children especially if the citizenship question is included. Undocumented parents will be reluctant to provide any information that they feel could adversely impact their family.  

“The clock is ticking,” Vargas said. “Now is the time for the nation’s highest court in the land to give the US Census Bureau the clarity and certainty it needs to execute the 2020 Census by removing the citizenship question once and for all. The Court can uphold the [Census] Bureau’s integrity and reputation and make clear that politics has no home in the hallways of one of the most preeminent scientific agencies in the world.”

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