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Census Immigration Question: Short-Sighted, Anti-Democratic Tactic
The state of California is pursuing legal action in response to the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. The state’s attorney general and secretary of state call the move “anti-immigrant.”
Elizabeth Cohen is an associate professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She says the citizenship question will discourage people who are worried about their immigration status to respond, which could lead to undercounting the population and depriving some regions of the country of important resources.
“The mandate of the Census is to count the entire U.S. population as accurately as possible. This information is critically important to identifying and governing all residents of the United States. But leaders in the Republican Party have engaged in a long-term campaign against using the best possible methods for gathering Census data. In the recent past, this has meant rejecting statistical sampling methods that social scientists have tested and that offer much more accurate means of measuring the population than the outdated methods Republicans have insisted on preserving.
“Now, as expected, they have also demanded the insertion of an unnecessary question about citizenship onto the survey. The citizenship question discourages people who are concerned about their immigration status, or the status of members of their household, from responding to Census requests for data. This, in turn, artificially deflates the count of people living in areas where there are large numbers of immigrants.
“The long-term effects of undercounting the population include depriving some regions of the country – particularly cities – of important resources and the proper apportionment of Congressional representation. Inadequate resources affect public health outcomes, infrastructure, and economic development with profound and lasting consequences for all Americans. This is a short-sighted and anti-democratic tactic designed to circumvent the intended mission of the Census.”
Colleen Heflin is a professor of public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She says the addition of a new Census question this late in the game creates havoc in a process that is very precise and deliberate.
“The enumeration of every resident of the United States is an enormous undertaking that takes years of preparation. The addition of a new Census question this late in the game when the placement and wording cannot be tested creates havoc in a process that is very precise and deliberate—literally the model of the world. More importantly, there is no legitimate purpose these questions serve other than to intimidate immigrants and suppress the count in areas of the country where immigrants are located. The question is clearly politically motivated and unfortunately injects politics in a critical governmental process. Having Census estimates that are inaccurate will reverberate throughout our economy and only further erode the trust in government and empirical data.”
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