The National Latino Commission on Census 2020, a group of elected officials and community leaders established last year to look at the impact of next year’s count on the Latino community, this week blasted the Trump administration’s proposal to add a question on citizenship to the Census, saying it could lead to an undercount in communities with large immigrant populations, including Florida.
“I think (the citizenship question) will have a very large, devastating effect [in South Florida] because of Florida’s population, said Lubby Navarro, Miami-Dade County School Board member and commission co-chair.
About 20 percent of the state’s population is foreign-born and more than half of Florida’s Latino population resides in Miami-Dade; 60 percent of them speak Spanish at home.
“We have so many immigrants from all over Central and South America and the Caribbean, and I think the citizenship question will provide an opportunity for them to be in even greater fear. We already know that many of these communities fear government, so having the question on the questionnaire will ask them to divulge information that they will not feel comfortable doing,” Navarro said. “Miami-Dade, being the largest Floridian county in terms of population, it will be largely impacted. It already is a hard-to-count county, so adding the question will make it even harder to count.”
Both of Florida’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, have said they are not opposed to a citizenship question being added to the 2020 Census. The commission says that’s shortsighted.
“We would like to remind Senator Rubio and Senator Scott that their state is at risk of having a worse count than 2010 to their own detriment,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which created the commission. Census figures estimate that more than 100,000 Floridians were missed in the 2010 Census, and that figure has been disputed by some state community leaders as too low.
The commission held public hearings last year and earlier this year in several cities across the nation, including Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Orlando; New York City; and San Antonio; and found the citizenship question was the greatest concern. The U.S. Census Bureau’s own analysis concludes that adding that question would discourage participation, further exacerbating an undercount of Latinos.
“Our communities cannot afford to have a failed count of the nation. We call on Congress, the administration, and the U.S. Census Bureau to save Census 2020 by removing the citizenship question once and for all,” said Navarro.
Federal law requires that everyone residing in the United States – citizen nor not — fill out the Census form, and anything left blank triggers a home visit from a Census enumerator, which Navarro and other commissioners say would further increase the fear among the community that the government is trying to track down undocumented immigrants. The Census Bureau stresses that it does not share information with immigration authorities, but that has not allayed fears.
“The 2020 Census will take place at a time of heightened fear given the political climate that we find ourselves in. A population undercount undermines all of that [federal funding, a voice in Congress] but that is where it seems we are heading to,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, commission co-chair.
The commission this week in Washington presented a number of recommendations, including not dropping the citizenship inquiry, a question that hasn’t been asked since the 1950 Census.
“Two (federal) judges (have already) held that the inclusion of the question is in violation of the Constitution,” said Vargas, who added that the Trump administration is proposing to add the question without first testing it out in the field — as has been done with any question currently on the Census form – and that Congress should step in.
“The Census Bureau knows that any question that appears on the form must be adequately tested. Congress now has the opportunity to support research and science in ensuring that only those adequately tested questions appear in the 2020 questionnaire,” Vargas said.
According to federal law, specific Census information is private for 72 years and there are penalties if anyone tries to release a name or particular household information. The National Latino Commission on Census 2020 wants to provide guidance to Latinos and other foreign-born residents in South Florida by way of community leaders and other trusted voices who can speak to residents about the law protecting their information.
“I urge all, whether it’s Florida or any state to make sure that everyone is counted, and I think that the universal message – because of the importance of the Census and because of the understanding of what the Founding Fathers thought the Census should be – is to count everybody regardless of citizenship status,” said Navarro.
The commission is asking Congress to conduct oversight hearings to determine Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ “rationale for adding the question.” The Census Bureau is an agency within the U.S. Commerce Department.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected by the end of their current term next month to issue a ruling on the Census form’s citizenship question.
Daniel Lederman is a reporter in the Caplin News’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.