By Ben Monterroso
Among the responsibilities and tasks of a modern state is the collecting and keeping of specific data about the population to be governed. It is important to appropriately implement the U.S. Census to gather data for improving city plans, programs and public policies; better allocation of resources; the identification of gaps in economic development; and the identification of vulnerable populations.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the addition of a new question in the 2020 Census that is focused on knowing whether a person is a U.S. citizen. This new question would intimidate mixed-family households and immigrants— populations that include both citizens and non-citizens—thus reducing the surveyed population and generating little assertive data to reflect the true composition of the country.
Historically, the Census has been a mechanism of control and power of the U.S. government over minorities, being used as a convenience to define who is part of the political community and who remains on the sidelines. This question related to citizenship represents the alteration of the political balance of power through legislative maps because the Census helps the U.S. government calculate the distribution of resources and draw districts for local and state elections.
Census data are used to determine how to distribute more than $675 billion in funds for federal programs and to chart electoral districts. The data are used to redesign the districts of the U.S. House of Representatives, which ultimately determines the number of Electoral College votes for each state in a presidential election. A 2010 Brookings report estimates that approximately 31% of all federal programs use Census data to guide the distribution of resources, and grants based on the Census make up 75% of all federal funds.
In December, the Department of Justice formally asked the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census; however, citizenship has not been a part of the U.S. Census since 1950. So far, representatives of both major parties have disapproved of the inclusion of the question, considering it a tool that will skew the population count.
There are many negative implications from including a citizenship question such as a cut in the federal funds distributed to each state by not properly accounting for part of its population. For each person not counted, a loss of $1,611 would be incurred, according to a study conducted by George Washington University in 2015.
Not counting minorities means less representation in the government and less federal resources to states and communities with populations of Hispanics, Blacks and people from the Middle East. Power yields influence.
The likely intention of the Trump administration in adding the question of citizenship to the Census is to politically favor President Trump’s re-election bid. This is a sign of the political power in deciding who is part of the community and who is not. Latinos are again excluded from the political decisions exercised by the majority. The Census question would be one more action that is circumscribed to the politics of fear that Trump is carrying out.
Those who are not counted are invisible and the problems of the invisible are not addressed. Latinos must demonstrate their strength as a community to stop the segregation policies of the Trump administration. A shift in who controls Congress would provide a real counterweight to the divisive policies of the Oval Office. The importance of Latino voting strength in the 2018 elections cannot be understated.
Ben Monterroso is the executive director of Mi Familia Vota, a national nonprofit organization that unites Latino, immigrant and allied communities to promote social and economic justice through increased civic participation by promoting citizenship, voter registration and voter participation. Contact him at Facebook/Twitter @BenMonterroso.