The Census Bureau plans to ask people if they are U.S. citizens in the 2020 survey.
The last time this question was asked, it was the 1950’s, and it led to the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.
The Justice Department seeks to reintroduce the citizenship question to enforce the Voting Rights Act (which has been continuously challenged since its creation in 1965). Critics view it as an intimidation tactic towards immigrant communities who have been a target under the current administration’s plans to separate of families, deport en masse, and dehumanize via policy. The fear incited by the question could discourage immigrants from participating in the census, viewing it as just a deportation tactic.
However, abstaining from the census can result in the population being greatly undercounted, which has huge effects on the state level.
Data collected from the census helps determine the drawing of political boundaries, the allotment of seats in both state and local levels of Congress, and the annual distribution of about $700 billion of federal funds.
While the administration and the bureau report that they would try to provide other government records to fill in missing responses in anticipation of the undercount, states with large Hispanic populations run the risk of losing millions by this question. This threat of being underfunded has provoked more than a dozen cities and states to sue the Census Bureau and Commerce Department in an attempt to remove it from the survey, citing that it “undermine[s] the accuracy of the population count and cause[s] tremendous harms” to state residents.
Phoenix, Arizona, stands to lose up to $170 million annually pending the absence of the Spanish and Latino participation that they, a state that despite showing dissent towards this population, has joined the lawsuit.
And while the citizenship question doesn’t explicitly ask about one’s immigration status, the unease towards the bureau’s citizenship question has just as much to do with history, as it does rhetoric. During World War II, the bureau provided the Secret Service the names and addresses of some Japanese Americans that led to their forced removal after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. From 1942 to 1945, the government incarcerated American citizens of Japanese descent, froze their assets, seized items that were deemed as contraband, and forced them to live and work as laborers through President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. While the Bureau has since acknowledged and apologized for sharing said data, after years of denying the passing of microdata, it does nothing to expunge the stain left on the agency’s history.
As it currently stands, the Census Bureau is prohibited from sharing information with other government agencies for a period of 72 years after it collects personal data, as a way to restore confidentially and trust amongst citizens.
More safeguards have been put in place to maintain confidentiality, including a $250,000 fine and possible jail time placed on employees who leak information. However, the protections and code to maintain confidentiality didn’t prevent the legal transfer of information that incarcerated these American citizens. To think about what the current administration could do to obtain that information and do something with it is not far-fetched. Especially since this administration has been inundated with controversy and continuous abuses of power.
The question is meant to suppress the count. Fearful immigrants opting out will cause states to be underfunded, which benefits the government. Either way, they win.
We shouldn’t be surprised when immigrants of Hispanic and Latino descent shun the citizenship question.
They are simply paying attention to the words and actions of a country that has used everything in its power to persecute a group they resent and are refusing to let history repeat itself.