How the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census could impact Kern County

April 24, 2019 /

The San Joaquin Valley could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and representation in congress if the Supreme Court votes in favor of adding the citizenship question on the 2020 Census questionnaire.

After Supreme Court Justices heard the first day of oral arguments Tuesday, the bench seemed split on whether a citizenship question can be included in the 2020 census. The justices appear ready to vote 5-4 to allow the Trump administration to add the question for next year’s national head count, NPR reports.

However, the liberal justices criticized the administration’s reasoning for the question.

“There’s no doubt that people will respond less” to the 2020 census if it includes the citizenship question, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said.

Many critics of the question say it will deter noncitizens from filling out their census forms out of fear of deportation, resulting in dollars lost and less representation for the state of California.

“On trial is not only the accuracy of a full Latino count, but also the foundation of our democracy,” said National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials CEO Arturo Vargas. “No other issue before the Supreme Court will have more direct consequences for the nation’s Latinos than the one before the Court today regarding the 2020 Census.”

Population counts from the 2020 census will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets for the next decade and redistricting. The data also determines where an estimated $880 billion a year in federal funding will be disbursed for schools, roads and other public services.

In Kern County, 13.6 percent of the population is noncitizen, according to the Public Policy Institute of California’s 2020 Census Map, outlining the state’s hard to count communities.

That’s an estimated 122,000 noncitizens in Kern County.

First 5 California estimates $2,000 is allocated to each person counted from the census. Rough estimates show if every noncitizen in Kern did not fill out the form, Kern could lose a little less than $244 million annually for an entire decade.

The controversy goes far beyond Kern. The Census Bureau estimates 6.5 million people will not respond to the 2020 census if a citizenship question is included.

General Noel J. Francisco, representing the Trump administration, acknowledged the question could deter census participation, but he said the information would be valuable.

“You’re always trading off information and accuracy,” he said Tuesday.

Home to 4.3 million people, the San Joaquin Valley is one of California’s hardest-to-count regions in 2020. Making up about 11 percent of the state’s population, according to PPIC, the valley runs south from San Joaquin County through Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern Counties

This area has high shares of groups that tend to be undercounted in the census — African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, as well as noncitizens, PPIC reports.

According to PPIC, a total of six legislative districts have populations that are at least 15 percent noncitizen: Congressional Districts 16 and 21; State Senate Districts 12 (Cannella) and 14 (Hurtado); and State Assembly Districts 31 (Arambula) and 32 (Salas).

The citizenship question went to the Supreme Court after three federal courts have found the addition of the question violates federal law and would result in an undercount of Latinos and immigrants.

The Census Bureau says it needs a final ruling on whether to include a citizenship question by June, NPR reports, in order for the printing of paper forms for the census to begin as scheduled.

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.