On June 27 of this year, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from adding a question on citizenship to the 2020 Census. While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross claimed that citizenship data are necessary for purposes of enforcing the Voting Rights Act, critics of the attempt to add a citizenship question have argued that its true purpose is to discourage participation in Census 2020 by immigrant populations. Depressed levels of participation among immigrant communities, the argument goes, would lead to an undercount in areas with higher concentrations of immigrants, in turn skewing electoral district maps in favor of Republicans. This argument is supported by the discovery of an unpublished 2015 report by deceased redistricting expert Thomas Hofeller, who explicitly stated that a citizenship question would be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”
Why does it matter? The final numbers lead to funding for as many as 55 programs and to levels of political representation in Congress. It matters plenty for all communities.
Though the citizenship question will not appear on the Census, news of the administration’s attempt to add the question may have already negatively influenced the willingness to participate in the Census among vulnerable immigrant populations. Depressed participation among Latina/o immigrant communities risks further undercounting a group already historically undercounted. According to a fact sheet from the Leadership Conference Education Fund, “Latinos have been undercounted for decades, disadvantaging their families, communities, and neighborhoods.” The fact sheet notes several factors that make Latina/os hard to count, including language barriers, poverty, education, and immigration status. Latina/o children are at particular risk of being undercounted due to complex living arrangements and language barriers.
An inaccurate count could not only result in voting districts that unfairly advantage some communities and populations over others, but would also impact the allocation of resources to communities, as well as decision-making processes that affect community well-being. Federal funding levels for programs upon which many Latina/os rely are derived in whole or part from census data, including numerous programs in the areas of children and education, food and nutrition, and healthcare and housing. It is crucial then that agencies, organizations, and individuals who work with Latina/o and immigrant populations stress to their clients the importance of participating in the Census in order to achieve an accurate population count.