Question Controversy

May 1, 2020

The U.S. Constitution mandates that every decade a new census is carried out in part to ensure that each state receives its fair share of U.S. Representatives. 

But immigrant advocates say that a question about citizenship status that the Trump administration tried to add to the form might have resulted in missing millions of households. Undercounting areas that traditionally lean Democratic would potentially result in a swing to a Republican-dominated map.

“Adding the question removes the purpose of the census and instills fear throughout the nation,” said senior Miri Leaderman. “A census count shouldn’t be meant to penalize people, but benefit them and their communities.”

The question was withdrawn from the census following a Supreme Court decision last summer, but many advocates still worry that fears about confidentiality could reduce participation in the census.  

“California has a large number of non-citizens, many of them unauthorized to be here,” said Hussey. “[They] might be nervous talking with government officials, even if they are not asked a question about citizenship.”

Even without the question, a study from the Urban Institute revealed that over four million people (primarily minorities) risk not being counted in the upcoming census. Pew Research Center estimated over 2.2 million undocumented immigrants live in California alone. In a state where the budget is over $18 billion, the stakes are high.

California faces a significant challenge because 75 percent of residents are considered “hard to count,”  which means that historically they have been undercounted in the census. People of color, immigrants, children and rural residents are part of the hard to count demographic. 

Last census, over one million children five and under were left uncounted in the last census according to a 2019 study by the Urban Institute. This could lead to a potentially inaccurate measurement of how to spend federal funds for education, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for the next 10 years.


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