By Jackie Sedley
The City of Seattle announced on Tuesday that it will be suing the Trump administration in an attempt to halt the addition of a question regarding citizenship status to the 2020 census.
Questions regarding citizenship have not appeared on a nationwide census since 1950, which alludes to the lack of societal progression guiding this addition.
In accordance with the United States Constitution, the government is required to count the number of people residing within the United States every 10 years. This data is used primarily to determine the number of seats per state in the United States House of Representatives, as well as to determine how to distribute funding to roughly 300 census-guided federal grant and funding programs.
The United States Census Bureau aims to use collected data to shape important policy decisions with the intent of improving social and economic conditions. Nowhere in its online mission statement or program details does the census so much as insinuate that citizenship rights would in any way assist the Bureau in achieving its goals, nor is it their responsibility to contribute to any studies regarding citizenship.
In 1980, there was a previous attempt to add a question which would ascertain citizenship information from census-takers. However, the Bureau immediately shut this attempt down, claiming that “obtaining the cooperation of a suspicious and fearful population would be impossible if the group being counted perceived any possibility of the information being used against them.”
In the current anti-immigrant climate, a significant portion of United States residents without full citizenship are constantly living in fear of being deported. However, as they are still currently living within America, they deserve the benefits that could be provided by the census just as much as any United States citizen should.
Higher populations, as recorded through the census, often receive greater benefits than states with lower populations. However, if the citizenship question intimidates residents into abstaining from surveys, population records will appear lower and states may risk losing limited benefits that are inadequate to support the people who reside within their borders.
The City of Seattle has felt personally inclined to involve itself in this lawsuit because approximately 150,000 undocumented immigrants live within its borders. Chandler Felt, a demographer for King County, claims that even those with Green Cards may stray from completing the census due to fear of Trump’s immigration tactics.
According to data acquired from the United States Southern District of New York, roughly one in seven Washington state residents is an immigrant, and in 2014 over one in four immigrants in Washington were undocumented.
Head Start, a Washington non-profit program that advocates for high-quality early learning for low-income children, could be drastically affected by this addition. As nearly half of the families involved in the program are Latino, a lack of immigrants responding to the census could cause this program to receive less funding.
Offices like the Highway Trust Fund, which funds road construction, the Department of Transportation and Medicaid programs could all be affected by the seemingly simple addition of this question as well.
A study conducted by George Washington University determined that if even one percent of the Washington state population had been undercounted in 2015, over $2 million in federal funding would have been lost for the Medicaid program.
Overall, the addition of questions such as these hinders democracy and damages the accuracy of the decennial count. This question truly appears to be an intimidation tactic, as if the government is trying to punish states and their respective cities and counties that house immigrants and refugees. The tension surrounding questions regarding citizenship is also due in part to surfacing fears of government registries being initiated that would keep track of those of immigrant or undocumented status.
Therefore, if states wish to continue receiving benefits and if the Census Bureau wishes to continue receiving accurate population data, questions that may intimidate people out of taking the survey must be entirely prohibited.
If the Census Bureau wishes to continue following the practices mandated by the United States Constitution, it is necessary to enable more productive conversations on basic standards of human rights of citizens and non-citizens across the country, and in Congress.