Capitol Hill: What You Missed (Volume 19, Issue 7)


Michael Eng and Saloni Shah

President Trump announced the addition of a question on the 2020 census that would ask individuals whether they are citizens. Such a question is raising concern of undercounting and biases against immigrants.

by Michael Eng and Saloni Shah

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced the reintroduction of the citizenship question on the upcoming 2020 decennial census on March 26. This marks the first time the question has been in the census since 1950. As a result, the State of California is suing the Trump administration over the controversial decision.

The citizenship question on the decennial survey raises questions about the Trump administration’s intent, since the citizenship status is already covered by other surveys, like the annual American Community Survey, to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Moreover, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, questions on the decennial survey usually pass through about five years of testing, but this announcement passed through at the very last minute.

The main purpose of the census mandated by the U.S. Constitution is to get an accurate headcount of the U.S. population, not the number of citizens. Although respondent data confidentiality is protected by the law, concerns about drawing attention via their answer to the citizenship question may deter people from filling out the form.

“If people know the data is confidential, I do think they would be okay filling it out. There are a ton of people who don’t know that the data is confidential,” Civil Rights Attorney Nick Kuwada of the Asian Law Alliance (ALA), based in San Jose, said. “To include this question only further divides our community from people who can help [undocumented immigrants].”

The number of people counted in the state in the census determines the allocation of federal funds.

“For the most part, there is always going to be some level of undercount,” Kuwada said. “Any sort of movement to make the census less desirable for people to be counted would drastically reduce millions and even billions of dollars to states who desperately need that aid.”

The citizenship question can dissuade immigrants and noncitizens from answering the survey in huge numbers. This undercounting can lead to a two-fold effect in states with large numbers of foreign-born people and non-citizens, such as California and New York.

Since census data is used to calculate the number of seats in the House of Representatives, census undercounting could shift political power.

Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a constitutional law and immigration law professor at Santa Clara University, voiced concerns about relative transfer of power from blue to red states due to the higher percentage of immigrants in more liberal states.

“States with large numbers of non-citizens and foreign-born individuals, mostly blue states, will likely significantly undercount their population in the 2020 census. In contrast, states with relatively low noncitizen populations will not be negatively affected in the same way,” Gulasekaram said.

Governor Jerry Brown has requested $40.3 million for census outreach in the state budget. ALA plans on continuing community outreach, partnerships with a number of non-profit organizations and presentations on the importance of the census.

The youth can play an active role in this matter by engaging in this conversation in their individual households and educating the head of the household who fills the form. This civic duty by the youth can ensure accurate census counting.

This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on May 7, 2018.