On Monday, the United States Census Bureau announced that the 2020 census will include a question about U.S. citizenship. Commerce Secretary Wilbur RossWilbur Louis RossMomentum builds to prohibit lawmakers from trading stocks Census memo notes 'unprecedented' Trump administration meddling: report Holding defiant Trump witnesses to account, Jan. 6 committee carries out Congress's constitutional role MORE stated that this addition is designed to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of legislation that guarantees equal voting rights. But civil rights groups like the ACLU aren’t buying it. On the contrary, the citizenship question is recognized as yet another attack on the immigrant population by the Trump administration.
Regardless of legal status, it is unlikely that a non-citizen will check a box labeled “not a United States citizen.” Instead, many immigrant families will choose not to respond to the Census Bureau. This is because the actions of the Trump administration have sparked anxiety in immigrant populations, spurring distrust for the government. Individuals that have legally resided in the United States for years—sometimes even decades—feel as though their legal status is suddenly unstable. This sentiment is not without warrant. Just ask the DACA recipients.
In September, President TrumpDonald TrumpHeadaches intensify for Democrats in Florida Stormy Daniels set to testify against former lawyer Avenatti in fraud trial Cheney challenger wins Wyoming Republican activists' straw poll MORE announced the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama-era program that grants protection from deportation to individuals that illegally immigrated to the United States as children. After President Trump’s announcement, the program was set to expire on March 5, but the termination was delayed by two injunctions issued by federal judges. However, the rulings protecting DACA could be overturned during by an appeal process, meaning that the legal status of DACA recipients is not guaranteed. Now, not only are the 700,000 individuals with DACA status at greater risk of deportation, all of their information is registered with the federal government, increasing their vulnerability.
Naturally, DACA recipients feel betrayed. The decision to register for the program was not an easy one. Undocumented immigrants have learned to systematically distrust the people that are here to help—any interaction with a federal agent, even a local policeman, could result in deportation. When the Obama administration asked young undocumented immigrants to register their personal information with the federal government and apply for DACA, the program was met with understandable skepticism. The individuals that chose to register for DACA so that they could live, work, and learn legally in the United States took an admirable risk. The termination of DACA was a violation of their trust, and it is unlikely that they will voluntarily provide personal information to federal authorities again.
DACA is only one piece of a larger debate over immigration reform that remains at a standstill. The president has made it clear that he will not sign an immigration bill unless it includes funding for a border wall and limitations to the legal immigration system. As a result, immigrants are feeling increasingly unwelcome in the American melting pot. A family that is forced to live in the shadows of society will choose not to answer a survey that will put them at risk. The decision to forgo the census may seem inconsequential to the individual, but it could have serious repercussions for the greater community.
The United States census determines the allocation of federal funding, as well as the congressional representation of a district. In order to adequately fund education, infrastructure, health care and more, the Census Bureau needs an accurate headcount. It is in the interest of all residents of the United States that census participation is incentivized. A question about citizenship would have the opposite effect and could pose serious harm to our communities.
If Secretary Ross is in fact determined to improve enforcement of the Voter Rights Act, might I recommend election modernization efforts? Automatic voter registration might do the trick, as would reforms that lift unjust limitations to voting in minority communities. Conversely, a citizenship question on the 2020 census would only decrease minority representation, all to the detriment of the greater United States, citizens and non-citizens alike.
Mary Gardner is the Manager of Government Affairs and Policy at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The organization represents over 4.37 million Hispanic-owned businesses contributing more than $700 billion to the American economy annually.