Texas potentially has a lot to lose if a question about citizenship remains on the 2020 census. Our public officials need to prevent that from happening.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ last-minute decision to ask the question changes policy that’s been in place since the 1950’s. And if it’s allowed to be asked, states like Texas with large immigrant populations stand to lose federal funding and potentially seats in Congress, both of which are based on the population documented through the census.
The census is designed to measure all people living in this country: citizens, non-citizens who are here legally, and immigrants here without documentation.
The Trump administration argues the citizenship information is needed to protect minority voting rights while civil rights groups, demographers and others contend the question will lead to a significant undercount of people, particularly in states like Texas. Many foreign born residents will refuse to fill out the census. They don’t trust the Trump administration which wants to limit immigration, build a wall and punish sanctuary cities.
The census is a deciding factor in distributing hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending for Medicaid, food assistance,housing and other services. Any undercount of our population robs Texas of its fair share of federal funding for these critical programs.
An undercount may also steal from Texas’ considerable political clout as the state gets ready for political redistricting, a process called reapportionment. Currently, Texas’s Washington delegation numbers 36. Whether we gain additional seats in Congress will be based on an accurate count.
Here’s a rundown of how we got to where we are today:
In December, the U.S. Department of Justice asked the census bureau to include the citizenship question to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects against dilution of the minority vote.
Then, Ross issued an 8-page memo saying he took a “hard look” at the request and ultimately agreed to include the question. His agency had until April 1 to submit its citizenship question to Congress.
Ross points out that the citizenship question is still part of the American Community Survey, an ongoing study of the population. He said that the need for accurate data in the census outweighs fears about a “potentially lower response rate.”
Some Republican lawmakers praised Ross’ decision, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz., who said “... A question on citizenship is a reasonable, common sense addition to the census.” But there are other ways to assess citizenship that won’t lead to our state being short-changed.
Texas has about 3 million non-citizens, according to the 2016 American Community Survey. The survey says about 200,000 of them live in Tarrant County. A Texas Tribune story published last month estimated that almost two-thirds of the 5 million immigrants in Texas are undocumented.
California immediately sued the government after Ross announced his decision. The New York Times reports that New York and 10 other states will join forces to block the citizenship question. Some Congressional members say they will file bills to keep it from happening.
Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter agrees there is no clear empirical work showing that there will be a large undercount resulting from asking about citizenship, but he says traditionally low-income, Latino and African-American communities along with areas of high poverty and low education, tend to participate less in the census.
He says adding this question only makes matters worse.
“I think the way it was added and the subsequent politicization of that will lead more people to refuse to respond to the census or to refuse to answer the question,” Potter said. “If enough people refuse to answer the question, or purposefully answer it inaccurately, the data from the question will be useless.”
The U.S. Constitution requires that every resident of the United States be counted every 10 years.
Adding the citizenship question to the 2020 questionnaire will make the count less reliable.
It’s a bad idea for the nation. It’s especially bad for states like Texas.