Newswire :Citizenship question could hurt Census count of Black America

By Khalil Abdullah

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from Ethnic Media Services

( – The Constitution requires that America’s decennial census count all persons residing in the United States, not just citizens, a clearly stated objective now at risk.
In a lawsuit brought by plaintiffs including states, cities and civil rights organizations, New York Southern District Judge Jesse Furman ruled on Jan. 15 in their favor against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ intention directing the Census Bureau to include a question asking census respondents whether they and everyone else in their households are U.S. citizens.
At issue is not only whether the question’s inclusion is legal, given administrative timelines that were missed, but whether it would depress participation, particularly among ethnic populations, thus resulting in an inaccurate count.
Jeri Green, Senior Advisor on the 2020 Census at the National Urban League, termed Ross’ action “a thinly veiled attempt to sabotage and affect congressional and Electoral College representation by deliberately undercounting vulnerable populations and erasing them from the census count.”
Green noted that “out of roughly 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in America, about 620,00 are black, according to the most recent statistics by the Migration Policy Institute. But equally at risk, however, are the 4.2 million documented black immigrants who comprise a rising share of the black population in the United States.”
Green participated as a panelist in a media conference call co-sponsored by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Ethnic Media Services.
Census data is used to determine congressional reapportionment as well as the basis to accurately and fairly distribute federal money to states, counties and cities for a variety of programmatic and infrastructure needs. From schools and hospitals to social services, there is virtually no civic arena that is left unaffected by census apportioned revenue – between $700 to $800 billion annually. Data collected in 2020 will inform all such determinations for 10 years, until the next census in 2030.
However, today’s political environment is often inflamed by debates over immigration and related issues, such as a proposed expansion of a wall on America’s southern border or a recently published story in The Washington Post on non-citizen voting in North Carolina — votes sometimes cast due to ignorance of, or misunderstandings about citizenship status.
Like the National Urban League’s concerns about the dilution and disempowerment of the black vote, and underfunding of programs and services, the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) shares the same perspective relative to its Latino constituents.
Angela Manso, Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, NALEO Educational Fund, cited Census Bureau findings in Providence County, R.I., that “over 78 percent of the Latinos surveyed believe that a citizenship question would make people afraid to participate in the census.”
Manso contends Secretary Ross’ insistence to include the question is “designed to erase our presence in this country and impact our growing political force.”
A newly released Pew Research Center analysis of the 2020 electorate underscores demographic shifts that will produce a greater number of eligible ethnic minority voters, especially Latinos.
John C. Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a panelist on the call, argued for the elimination of the question as well. He explained that its addition would likely produce a lower turnout among Asian Americans, this country’s fastest growing ethnic cohort. A significant percentage of that growth is due to recent immigrants. “One in four Asians in the United States,” Yang said, “are new Americans and have never participated in the Census, and a citizenship question endangers an accurate count.”
Panelists urged Congress to “step in” to resolve the contention over the citizenship question by introducing legislation that would bar its usage. There are concerns that even with Judge Furman’s ruling in New York, a potentially favorable outcome for opponents of the question’s inclusion in a Maryland lawsuit and yet a third trial in California that is anticipated to produce a ruling similar to New York’s, the Supreme Court could decide to hear the case on the government’s expedited appeal.
Though presumably adherence to precedents would prevail at the country’s highest court, a new law specifically excluding the citizen question could put the issue to rest and beyond the reach of Secretary Ross or others who may seek to exploit its use to accomplish a political agenda.
A House bill, the Census IDEA Act, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., that would bar the question’s use, only a few days ago saw a companion bill introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-HI.
Yet, while the panelists argued that a fair and accurate census should be a bi-partisan issue — as an inaccurate count reduces revenue for Americans in need everywhere, not to mention violates the principle of equality under law — attempting to enact legislation brings its own risks.
For one, not only would both the Senate and the House have to pass legislation, the President would have to sign it into law. Should he choose to veto it, it would take 67 senators to override.
Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House subcommittee charged with overseeing the census, said the most likely route to pass legislation addressing the citizenship question would be to attach it to a “must-pass bill,” like an appropriations bill.
Meanwhile, with court cases still pending and the final status of the question still unresolved, key deadlines are at risk. A critical public education awaits implementation and there may be a delay in printing the final census forms until after this summer’s target date. Green noted that Census Bureau enumerators, drawn from the communities they survey to conduct the door-to-door interviews when individuals fail to respond to mailed surveys, have yet to be hired and trained. But to hire the 500,00 people needed for the task, the Census Bureau expects to screen 2.5 million applicants.
Green also pointed out that, given the 2020 census will be the first to utilize the Internet as medium of response, the consequences of the digital divide and lack of Internet access may negatively affect response rates from already hard to count communities, typically low-income and rural, and ones where the number of children present in a household are often unreported.
Beth Lynk, Census Counts Campaign Director for The Leadership Conference Education Fund, speaking of the New York ruling, said that “each of the dozens of defects the judge found” would provide a sufficient basis to exclude the question. Especially relevant to traditionally hard to count populations, Lynk cited a quote from Judge Furman’s 277-page decision: “Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people would go uncounted if the citizenship question is included.”

Newswire : Deadline nears for public comment on 2020 Census controversies

By Khalil Abdullah

Before the public comment period on the 2020 Census closes at 11:59 pm on August 7, civil rights organizations continue to amplify the clarion call to Americans to denounce the inclusion of a “citizenship question” on the final census form – a question as to whether respondents are U.S. citizens.

Jeri Green, Senior Advisor for the 2020 Census, National Urban League (NUL), said the citizenship question was “untested, unjust, and unconstitutional,” and should be opposed by all Americans. Conducted every 10 years, the constitutionally mandated census is “the nation’s largest and complex peacetime activity,” explained Terri Ann Lowenthal, former Staff Director of the House Census and Population Subcommittee, and currently Policy Advisor, Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF). For example, Green, a former Census Bureau employee, contends that the Census Bureau’s typical “what’s in it for you?” messaging to the Black community must change. “A different narrative is needed to motivate the Black population to participate in the 2020 Census.” Green said The National Urban League, in concert with other organizations, is “developing strategies to ensure that African Americans understand that political power and representation are at stake, and that we cannot afford to lose an inch of political ground by ignoring the Census.” She reminded attendant media that “Black America” comprises immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, as well as those African Americans who, with predictable regularity, are still undercounted and have been so since the first 1790 census. Panelists repeatedly emphasized the importance of the Census Bureau getting the count right because mistakes have monetary and social repercussions lasting through the decade and beyond. The estimated annual $600 to $675 billion draw-down of federal funds, based on and allocated to states, counties, and cities using census data, would expand to over six trillion dollars until next decennial count in 2030. More difficult to quantify and qualify over that span is the impact of the loss of a family’s home, food insecurity, or lack of access to medical care. Yes, Green said, African Americans, as do many Americans across ethnic lines, benefit from federally programs based on Census data, among them the Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Health Center Programs (Community, Migrant, Homeless, Public Housing); and Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP). “But for many African Americans residing in urban communities,” she argued, “state and local funding has become a one-way ticket out of their communities, out of affordable housing, and out of health-care coverage — bye-bye Obama Care.” With the near universal specter of urban gentrification across America in mind, Green said, “The neighborhood school funded by state and local funding 10 years ago, has been razed and a new multi-million-dollar condominium complex sits in its place today. Simply put, many African Americans are not better off than they were 10 years ago. “But, wherever you might live — even if displaced, federal funding allocations, based on Census data, still support services vital to our communities, and well-being.” One of the NUL’s concerns about the 2020 Census is the practice of prison-based gerrymandering. Prisoners are still to be counted as residents of the communities where they are incarcerated rather than as members of communities where they live, this despite an outpouring of public comment for the Census Bureau to end the practice. Green said NUL president, Marc Morial, considers this type of gerrymandering predatory because the per capita funds that should follow each prisoner into his or her community – revenue that would benefit the hospitals, housing, schools, and transportation infrastructure therein — is being diverted. In his view, African-American communities are continuously and unjustly losing to others revenue that should rightly be theirs. However, loss or diversion of funding is but one consequence of an undercount. John C. Yang, president and executive director of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice reiterated that census data are the basis for drawing congressional districts. Less well known, he explained, that data also trigger a provision of the Voting Rights Act. Census data are the driving factors in determining when ballots are required to be printed in an additional language, based upon the percentage of an ethnic group’s population who do not speak English as their primary language. It was Census data in 2010, for example, that recorded the growth of the Chinese American population in Harris County, Texas, the home of Houston. Thus, for the first time in that jurisdiction – and mandated by law — election materials and ballots also were printed in Chinese. Education and ballot access likely will continue to be a core issue for newly minted Asian Americans. Yang said that, due to recent immigration, “one in four Asian Americans have never participated in the census” and that when all the ethnic groups comprising the Asian American community are totaled, “60 percent are immigrants.” Initiatives that depress Census participation – like the citizenship question — could negatively affect the future political voice of Asian Americans. Taking umbrage and aim at the intention of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to include the citizenship question on the Census form, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of LCEF, called the Ross initiative misguided and politically motivated. Comments and e-mail exchanges between and among administration officials are being made public due to Freedom of Information Act requests. Those materials are bearing out her assertions, according a judge who is ruling in one of the raft of law of lawsuits challenging Secretary Ross’s goal. Panelists ceded that some issues plaguing the 2020 count are not of Census Bureau’s own making, including leadership vacancies as a result the administration’s inaction, or the chronic shortfall in funding. Gupta said determining funding levels for the census will be a leading issue for Congress in its upcoming calendar. But the addition of the question in the current political environment — one highly charged with acrimonious debate — would subvert the objective of the census itself, which is to count all persons living on U.S. soil, not just citizens. Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund believes that there is already evidence that it will depress the response rates from the Latino community. Immigrants, though “legal” or documented, often have relatives or acquaintances who share “mixed status” households. , Thus, whether one’s personal immigrant status is secure, others within the same familial or social orbit – whose status may be unresolved – might well decline to respond, fearing deportation or possible incarceration. Among Asian Americans, residual paranoia about responding to the census is more than partly due to the indelible memory of the U.S government’s use of census data to identify and imprison Americans of Japanese ancestry during World War II. Yang, though convinced there now are “much stronger privacy laws in place” to sufficiently protect the confidentiality of census data, also opposes adding the citizenship question. Lowenthal and Vargas stressed that the public should and can weigh in, before August 7, on any proposed census methodology. Such concerns might include the robustness of cybersecurity protections, or the Bureau’s over-reliance on Internet responses as opposed to increasing the number of door-to-door enumerators, particularly to cover rural areas and other hard to count communities. “Time is of the essence,” said Gupta. Lowenthal said that public comments have carried weight with the Census Bureau’s professional staff. She cited past examples, such as the revision of racial categories to provide more options for the increasingly ethnically diverse American demographic. But apparently, the weight thus far on behalf of ending prison-based gerrymandering has been insufficient. Green said Morial and the NUL will continue to fight on numerous fronts. Public comments should be submitted to: