“The Trump administration must not succeed in its efforts to supress participation in the 2020 census by stoking fear in our immigrant community,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement Thursday.
But the fight isn’t over.
With the US Census Bureau posed to print the questionnaires by Monday, it remains to be seen whether the citizenship question will be included. Liccardo warned that it’s “too soon to celebrate,” as there will be further court rulings to determine a final outcome.
The high court is giving the White House another chance to justify the controversial question. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross initially claimed that the question is necessary to improve citizenship data and enforce the Voting Rights Act, legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. But federal judges ruled that Ross lied. Evidence showed that it wasn’t until Ross unsuccessfully requested for citizenship data from other agencies that he used the Voting Rights Act as an excuse to add the query in question.
San Jose was one of the first cities to sue the federal government over the attempt to include the citizenship question, which critics feared would deter immigrants from taking part in the decennial survey and lead to a critical undercount of the US population. Especially in this county, where roughly 40 percent of residents are foreign-born.
The impact of undercounting would be far reaching. The federal government uses data from the census to determine the number of seats to allocate for each state in the House of Representatives and how to apportion federal spending to states and counties. That’s money for public services like roads, schools and hospitals. Liccardo said that undercounting in the 2010 census cost San Jose almost $200 million in federal funds.
“The impacts are severe—artificially reducing California’s representation in Congress, and slashing critical funding for the essential services—such as healthcare, housing, and education—upon which all our residents depend,” Liccardo warned.
Even if the question doesn’t end up on the census form, residual fears could still prevent full participation. In response to the fears of an undercount, the county and local cities have launched what they call the Local Update of Census Addresses operation (LUCA) to ensure that non-traditional households in low-income communities are identified.
A question about citizenship hasn’t been asked in the US census since 1950. Though the Census Bureau has fielded requests to reinstate it over the years, the agency has held firm, saying the question risks discouraging undocumented immigrants from responding and would result in an inaccurate tally.
That’s exactly what local officials are worried about.
“We have a huge immigrant population,” county Supervisor David Cortese told reporters on the day the court announced its decision. “The impact on people of color, immigrants who happens to be undocumented is in the tens of thousands. If they become fearful of answering questions, then shame on all of us, shame on the White House and the president of the United States.”
Maricela Gutierrez, executive director of the Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), said the citizenship question was about more than collecting government data. “We exposed Trump for exactly what he is,” she said in a statement, “a fear-mongering and power-hungry leader.”