March 27, 2018 By Tara Law
Legislators from across Queens condemned the Commerce Department’s decision to include a question in the 2020 Census about citizenship status for the first time since 1950.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who was nominated by President Donald Trump, announced Monday that the upcoming census will ask respondents to identify their citizenship.
Queens officials, including Congresswoman Grace Meng, Congressman Joseph Crowley, Public Advocate Letitia James and State Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, expressed concerns that the question would lead to an undercount of U.S. residents, including undocumented immigrants.
The census provides crucial data about the U.S. population, which the government uses to determine redistricting of House and state legislatures and to make decisions about allocating funding for infrastructure, healthcare and other programs.
The U.S. Justice Department asked the Commerce Department to reinstate the question in December. The Justice Department argued that the question would enable them to enforce Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which applies to all voters (citizens). The act bans states from using election processes that are not equally open to minority voters, such as drawing district lines to devalue minority votes.
Secretary Ross released a memo Monday to explain his decision. He noted that the citizenship question would be placed last on the census form to minimize the impact.
“I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” he wrote.
Opponents argue that the citizenship question will deter undocumented immigrants— and legal immigrants who live with undocumented immigrants— from responding to the census. Immigrants to the U.S. overwhelmingly reside in urban, liberal-leaning areas like Queens, which critics say incentivizes the Republican-controlled federal government to underestimate their population.
The Census Bureau submitted a memo in September which said that census pretesting studies had found that respondents were concerned about the confidentiality of the census program in light of recent federal measures to curb immigration, such as the so-called “Muslim ban” and the presidential administration’s encouragement of aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tactics.
Assemblymember Simotas (D- Astoria, Ditmars Steinway) sent a letter to Ross on March 23, asking him to omit the question. She noted that 90 percent of her constituents are considered to live in “hard to count” neighborhoods.
“With heightened fears of immigration enforcement and anxieties over the confidentiality of census data, it will be even more challenging to collect and complete, accurate information,” Simotas wrote. “Adding a question about citizenship will exacerbate these issues and depress response rates even further, leading to detrimental consequences for our most vulnerable populations.”
Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D- Astoria, Long Island City, Greenpoint, eastern Manhattan) urged Congress to pass her IDEA Act, which would block the Secretary of Commerce from implementing changes that have not been researched and tested three years before census day.
“This decision by Secretary Ross to add a last-minute citizenship question will cripple the 2020 Census and lead to an incomplete and unfair count of all people living in our country,” said Maloney. “This is a deliberate effort to politicize the census for partisan gains that violates the standards set forth in the Constitution mandating an accurate count of the nation.”
Congressman Crowley (D- Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside) expressed his support for Maloney’s act, noting that an undercount would be “devastating” for underserved communities.
“This is an unacceptable move to politicize and derail the 2020 Census,” said Crowley. “This effort is a direct threat to our representative democracy, a blatant effort to intimidate immigrant communities, and a complete sabotage of the census process.”
Congresswoman Meng (D- Flushing, Kew Gardens, Forest Hills) called the decision “deeply troubling and reckless.”
“I am deeply disappointed with Secretary Ross, and I will now look to introduce legislation to stop this question from being included on the census,” she said.
Public Advocate James also released a scathing statement against the decision.
“Last night, the Trump administration took yet another step to dehumanize and discount millions of people living in this country,” said James. “Requiring questions about citizenship in the 2020 Census will undoubtedly result in a substantial underreporting of the number of individuals in America, impacting everything from critical funding measures to accurate political representation.”
James urged the city and state to increase awareness and education measures in response to Ross’ decision.