2020 census poses challenges for ethnic minorities

In June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration was not allowed to include the question, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” on the 2020 census, which is meant to be given to every household in the country. The Trump administration had justified this question by saying that it would lead to better enforcement of federal voting laws. However, the Supreme Court ruled that this justification was “contrived.”

The administration’s real reasoning was most likely due to its unapproving stance on immigration. Even President Trump took to social media to express his disapproval of the decision, tweeting, “Can anyone really believe that as a great Country, we are not able the ask whether or not someone is a Citizen. Only in America!”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in late 2019 that it would instead provide pre-gathered individual citizenship data to the Census Bureau, which, in effect, could work as a substitute for President Trump’s question.

On the other hand, the Supreme Court ruling was supported by Democrats who said that the citizen question “would discourage legal and illegal immigrants from responding and make the population count less accurate,” according to Pete Williams of NBC news.

Even without the question’s inclusion, witnesses told Congress that many people in minority communities had worries about their representation in the 2020 census. On Jan. 9, Congress held a hearing about reaching hard-to-count communities in the census.

According to an NBC article titled “Latinos, Asian Americans still fear 2020 census over citizenship question, witnesses tell Congress” from Jan. 9, 2020 by Suzanne Gamboa, Latinos and Asian Americans fear the 2020 census and are less likely to participate because of the Trump administration’s hostile attitude toward immigrants.

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, called the citizenship question a “failed debacle” and stated that it “instilled a lasting fear [in Latinos]…This is exacerbated by a hostile environment toward immigrants propagated by this administration.” He added that the 2010 census left 1.5% of Latinos uncounted.

Hong Mei Pang, the Director of Advocacy from Chinese for Affirmative Action, a San Francisco civil rights organization (abbreviated CAASF), said that Chinese Americans could be deterred from responding to the census this year. “The worsening political climate that exhibits xenophobia and racism exacerbates mistrust of the government, which continues to pose a barrier to a full and accurate count during Census 2020.” 

Additionally, many other factors can affect the census data concerning minorities. “The census is allowing responses online this year and many rural areas have no access to the internet…Census Bureau materials are being offered in just five Asian languages…and a Latino outreach program that focuses only on Spanish-speaking Hispanics” can all cause inaccuracies, said Gamboa.

The census is important because it determines how billions of dollars of federal funding is alloted for infrastructure and public services, and how congressional seats and Electoral College votes are divided between states for the next decade. The data is also used to zone land and property, and to aid emergency responders in the case of natural disasters, reports Hansi Lo Wang in an NPR piece titled “What You Need To Know About The 2020 Census” in March 2019.

Unfortunately, many immigrants, especially those who are non-native English speakers, are unaware of the importance of the census. “As immigrants are acclimating to their new civic environment in the U.S., many might not have experienced or come into contact with the census and how it might impact their everyday lives,” stated Pang. Because ethnic minorities make up large portions of different communities, such as the Bay Area, it is important that they are accurately accounted for by the government.

Although federal law mandates that every U.S. resident over 18 must fill out the census forms or receive fines, there aren’t always real repercussions for people who return partially completed forms or don’t fill them out at all. Of course, this isn’t recommended because it creates inaccurate results and, if large numbers of people don’t answer complete census forms, could prevent millions of dollars of funding from reaching their area.

This is creating a sort of lose-lose situation for ethnic minorities in the United States. Some claim that the Trump administration’s policies deter them from completing census forms, which could result in legal trouble. And for those who do choose to fill out the census form completely, many could still face issues with language and translation of the forms, internet issues for rural residents, and much more. With Census 2020 officially beginning in late January, many are forced to choose between a lesser of two evils when it comes to this American tradition.