Ensuring Latino Communities Are Counted

Last month, the Commerce Department announced it would include a question concerning citizenship status to the 2020 census. While the census may seem like a simple administrative count, the survey has enormous implications for determining congressional representation, and the apportionment of billions of dollars in federal grants, including those that support community and economic development needs vital to the NALCAB network.

This decision comes in response to a request originally sent last fall by the Department of Justice (DOJ). DOJ claims that it requires citizenship information to enforce certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act, yet there is reason to be skeptical of this claim given that the DOJ has shown a lack of interest in prioritizing voter rights issues under President Trump. Rationale aside, the decision to include this question on the census may result in a significant undercount of the Latino population. Many undocumented individuals may fear that the information they provide to census officials could later be used against them for purposes of deportation. Federal law explicitly prohibits government agencies and courts from using census response data against any individual, yet in an era where mistrust of the federal government is high, the perceived threat may be enough to weaken census participation in immigrant communities.

The Constitution requires the federal government to count all residents of the United States every ten years, regardless of citizenship status. For states like California with relatively high undocumented immigrant populations, the citizenship question may lower congressional representation in the House of Representatives while simultaneously stripping the state of billions of dollars in critical formula-based federal investments that support small business development, affordable housing opportunities, and other asset building initiatives. Given the infrequent nature of the survey, the results will likely shape important policy decisions in the coming decade.

NALCAB encourages its members and concerned allies to educate Latino communities about the importance of census participation in the weeks and months ahead. We cannot afford the costs of inaction.