The U.S. census is one of the most urgent civil rights issues facing the country and it’s up to Congress to make sure that the data collected is fair and accurate, said LaGloria Wheatfall, communications manager for The Leadership Conference Education Fund in northwest D.C.
“The census has historically missed certain communities — communities of color, urban and rural low-income households, immigrants, and young children — at disproportionately high rates,” Wheatfall said Wednesday during a media conference call. “Being undercounted deprives these communities of equal political representation and private and public resources.”
The Leadership Conference Education Fund and Ethnic Media Services hosted the call, which featured the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and the National Urban League.
The theme of the discussion was to push the importance of the 2020 census to communities of color and efforts to remove the citizenship question from the census.
“Getting the 2020 census right is important for all people, particularly the hardest to count communities,” said Beth Lynk, census counts campaign director at The Leadership Conference Education Fund. “If there is an undercount, vital public services, schools, hospitals, and highways are not properly funded, and already vulnerable communities will suffer.”
The 2020 census represents the only chance in a decade for a fair and accurate count of those communities, said John C. Yang, president and executive director of AAAJC.
Census data is used in countless ways to ensure that families and communities have the resources and services that they need, Yang said.
“One in four Asians in the United States are new Americans and have never participated in the census, and a citizenship question endangers an accurate count,” he said. “We must protect the voices of all our immigrant communities because this is an America where everyone counts.”
Given the importance of the census in distributing billions of dollars in federal funding and the allocation of political power to communities across the country for the next 10 years, America can ill afford to have millions of Latinos and other Americans missed in the nation’s decennial count, said Angela Manso, director of policy and legislative affairs at the NALEO Educational Fund.
“While the New York ruling marked an important legal victory, we know the citizenship question issue is far from settled in the courts,” Manso said. “That is why we are calling on Congress to act and provide the U.S. Census Bureau with the clarity it needs to execute the 2020 Census by removing the citizenship question once and for all.”
The citizenship questions increases the likelihood of a substantial undercount of the Black population, including immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa and the African Diaspora, said Jeri Green, the National Urban League’s senior census adviser.
Throughout the country, discussions and legal battles have taken center stage about the constitutionality of putting a citizenship question on the census. A federal judge in New York ruled this month against the Trump administration’s attempt to add the question to the 2020 census, though the administration plans to take the matter to the Supreme Court.
The history of the citizenship question and the census is more complex than it might appear.
To claim an understanding of when and how citizenship has appeared on past censuses it is necessary for someone to know the various compositions of past censuses.
In the census of 1950, there was a question that asked where each member of a household was born. If there were foreign born members of a household, they were then asked if they had been naturalized, according to The Carolinian.
In 1960, the question was gone, and there was only a question about someone’s place of birth. In 1970, the census was split from one questionnaire into two questionnaires, one long form and one short form. The short form didn’t ask about citizenship at all.
The long form, which wasn’t sent to the majority of households, asked about citizenship. Generally, the question was a variation of “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”
The most recent variation of this is even stranger, since no longer is there a short-form or long-form questionnaire being sent out, but actually it is the American Community Survey.
The form in 2010 did not include a question about citizenship but in the past, the American Community Survey has included questions about citizenship.
“We urge Congress to remove the question so the administration can focus on critical 2020 census operations instead of the continued pursuit of this misguided, discriminatory policy,” Green said.