The Census affects jobs, traffic and class size as well as federal spending and political representation. Don't mess it up with bad information.
In America, we take for granted the net good of knowing how many people live here and almost never think about why. But if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic for hours on end, if you’ve ever had to send your child to a classroom with 40 other students in it, if you’ve had to wait an hour for an ambulance to arrive at your home, then you might know firsthand what can happen when the Census isn’t accurate.
The U.S. Census informs and affects just about every facet of our lives. Policymakers use it to plan for emergency response, health care resource allocation, education and transportation. We use it to plan our roads and bridges, and to plan for child care and senior care. It’s how we decide how to allocate our annual federal budget and whether citizens with limited proficiency in English have the right to ballots and election materials in their native tongue. Businesses use Census data to find new markets and determine future development or geographic relocation.
With so much riding on the Census, it’s imperative that it be as accurate as possible. But if the Trump administration has its way, the veracity and utility of the upcoming 2020 Census could be severely compromised. The reason why lies in another purpose the Census serves: determining democratic representation. If the Census counts more people in an area, that area gets more representation. Count fewer people, they get less representation. It’s basic democracy.
But there are definitely populations the Trump administration would be more than happy to count less of. One of those is Latinos, and the administration has conceived of a way to make sure our Census fails to account for all of them. How? The answer is with one simple question: Are you a U.S. citizen?
In this day and age, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents target Latino families in our homes with impunity, indiscriminately rounding us up, many of us documented or U.S. citizens, and throwing us in immigrant detention centers. When strangers show up at our front doors without a warrant, asking whether we’re citizens, we’ve learned to stop talking and shut those doors immediately.
And that’s exactly what millions of Latinos across the USA will do, regardless of their citizenship status, when a Census taker shows up at their door in 2020 asking whether the people in their homes are citizens.
Latino representation and voting would drop
The Trump administration knows it.
It undoubtedly also knows that up to 32 million Latinos will be eligible to vote in 2020, the largest ethnic minority voting bloc in the country.
An undercount on the 2020 Census will unequivocally result in faulty data that the Census Bureau might not be able to correct before the Census in 2030. Six former Census directors from both Republican and Democratic administrations warn that the citizenship question will result in consequences for decades to come.
The citizenship question would further compound the damage to Latino democratic representation through voter suppression. Since Congress amended the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 1975, thousands of limited-English proficient citizens have come to depend on accurate Census data to determine whether they are entitled to a ballot in their native tongue. A third of U.S. Latinos have limited English proficiency, and whether a district offers Spanish-language ballots is determined by, you guessed it, the Census. If an area doesn’t report critical mass of Latino voters, it isn’t allocated Spanish-language ballots.
Real damage from an undercount
Even worse are the real, material effects. Low Latino Census counts will invariably lead to inadequate infrastructure, misinformed planning and insufficient health, education and social services in Latino communities, many of them already starved for resources to begin with.
To date, advocates have filed seven federal lawsuits challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments before deciding its fate this summer.
Regardless of the court's decision, residents, advocates and policymakers must work together to ensure an accurate Census count. We must spread the word now to members of all communities that they must stand up and be counted.
The United States is entitled to a Census that counts all people, because in this nation, all people count.
This op-ed was originally published in USA Today and you can see the original publication here.