By Alejandra Alberto
Civil rights groups around the nation are ramping up efforts this month to build opposition to a Trump Administration proposal to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census, a move they say would disenfranchise and sap funding from immigrant communities.
The U.S. Department of Commerce decided in March to add a question asking for citizenship status to be added to the 2020 U.S. Census, a massive survey undertaken every decade that determines population and, in turn, how much federal funding is distributed to each state.
Trump Administration officials say the move would better enforce the U.S. Voting Rights Act. Civil rights leaders and census experts say it’s a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise immigrant communities because many undocumented individuals may be discouraged from answering, and as a result, uncounted.
“We cannot allow the census to be turned from a non-partisan procedure into a dangerous political weapon,” Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference Education Fund, said during a national press call hosted Tuesday.
Requiring individuals to disclose their citizenship status would impact everyone, Gupta said, including people of color, young children and low-income, rural residents suffering the most. It could result in the denial of billions of dollars in federal funding to communities where Latinos live, she added.
Many undocumented individuals could also fear that the question would be used as a way to initiate deportation proceedings, Gupta said.
Except that’s not possible, given the U.S. Census Bureau’s strict confidentiality protocols regarding releasing personal information gathered during census surveys, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the NALEO Education Fund.
“No person’s individual information can be made public through anybody within the federal government or outside the Census Bureau for a period of 72 years,” Vargas said.
But it’s not just Latino communities that could be undercounted, said John Yang, of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a nonprofit group that fights to advance civil rights for Asians.
Roughly 90 percent of Asian Americans are immigrants or children of immigrants, Yang said.
“Given the anti-immigrant rhetoric, and some of the policies implemented by this administration, we have expected a challenge ensuring an accurate count on the 2020 Census. But given the addition of the untested question, we certainly see that challenge has been multiplied many times,” Yang said. “We don’t think it’s too late to remove this question.”
Comments are being gathered at www.censuscounts.org until midnight Aug. 8.