By: Nour Vakhshoury, Law Clerk, Bolour Immigration Group, APC

On Tuesday April 23, 2019 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging our current administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. The census determines how $880 billion in federal funding is spent, how voting districts are determined, the number of House seats, and the number of Electoral College votes states are allocated. Census officials estimated that 6.5 million individuals are expected to not participate in the census if the citizenship question is included. Additionally, there has already been an unprecedented decline in census participation due to Trump and his administration’s anti-immigrant policies and the continuous xenophobic vitriol coming out of the White House.

New York State Attorney General, Letitia James stated “Adding that particular citizenship question across America, could lead to the undercounting in communities across America, particularly in immigrant communities and Hispanic communities”. A new study by Harvard researchers revealed that the citizenship question could result in an undercount of about 4.2 million among Hispanics.

The study by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy reported that the fear among Hispanics will likely lead to underreporting of their family members or other members of their household which can omit between 7.7 percent and 9.1 percent of the Hispanic population recorded in the 2010 U.S. Census. The study noted:

As predicted, we again see even larger, significant effects for Hispanics listing Mexico or a country in Central America as their country of birth. Here, the Citizenship Treatment is associated with a 13.81 increase in skipped race/ethnicity questions.”

Hispanics have already been documented as having less overall political participation. Despite recent voting and political engagement campaigns aimed at increasing voting among Hispanic communities, research shows that internationally-born Hispanics are still particularly less likely to vote. Adding this citizenship question will likely create new barriers for an already disenfranchised population to participate in our democracy. The citizenship question could leave states with large immigrant populations heavily underfunded. For the first time in the history of the United States, California could lose congressional seats in the next round of redistricting.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund known as MALDEF stated that they will work hard to try to encourage Hispanic individuals to respond. Additionally, the census bureau itself will also invest in order to help increase census participation. However, in a climate that is already steadfast in hostility and distrust among immigrants in noncitizens, it is almost certain that there will be a drastic undercount if the citizenship question is added.

The Trump administration seeks to wield the census as a tool to maintain white conservative political power in the midst of widespread demographic change. A more precise census will show that our country is more abundant in diversity and more nonwhite today than ever before.