While normally outside the bounds of political debate, the Census Bureau’s decisions count for millions of Americans — both literally and the figuratively.
The inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census has prompted 18 states, six municipalities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to file suit. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced in a press release Tuesday that he plans to add the Commonwealth to the list of complainants.
Every 10 years, the Census Bureau administers a questionnaire sent to every household, collecting data on income, employment and other statistics on the population. Most importantly, the number of residents per jurisdiction determines the distribution of House seats and funding for state and local governments. Opponents of the citizenship question worry that immigrants, especially illegal residents, may not answer the census to avoid giving the government sensitive information.
Shapiro said a potential undercount of Pennsylvania residents would negatively impact the state, which has a population of 870,000 non-citizens.
“It’s vital that the 2020 Census be conducted fairly, accurately and in accordance with the law so Pennsylvania receives the representation and federal resources we deserve,” Shapiro said in the release.
Shoba Wadhia, the director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State, supports the effort to challenge the legality of the citizenship question. Wadhia said the Census Bureau failed to consider the “chilling effect” on minority populations, especially after Trump’s election. Research demonstrates that census response rates decrease among minorities when citizenship appeared on questionnaires in past decades, Wadhia said.
Though Wadhia said she feels disappointed by the Census Bureau, she said the new policy did not surprise her.
“It’s spot on [given the administration’s other stances] that adding citizenship disproportionately heightens anxiety and fear among highly frightened people,” Wadhia said. “In this climate, I’m not surprised that even legal immigrants do not want people to know their citizenship status.”
Wadhia expects the new census to discourage state and local governments from adopting immigrant-friendly policies, adding that the citizenship question represents “another Trump administration action that makes the livelihood and well-being of immigrants harder.”
Despite the Penn State College Republicans’ moderate stances on immigration, treasurer Riley Compton said he sees no issue with the Census Bureau asking about citizenship. Compton (sophomore-economics and political science) said he recognizes the reinstatement of the question may partly reflect the Trump administration’s restrictionist stance on immigration. The decision taken in isolation, he said, will not necessarily lead to a crackdown on illegal immigrant communities.
However, Compton said the government has an interest in serving legal residents of the United States over illegal immigrants.
“We at College Republicans bear no ill will to the majority of people here as illegal immigrants,” Compton said. “However, the government should represent the people who are citizens or went through the process to come here over those who are in the U.S. outside the law.”
Compton said while not only does the federal government have the authority to ask about citizenship, it also benefits the Census Bureau to keep accurate numbers of visa holders, permanent residents and citizens in the country. He attributes the backlash to anti-Trump sentiments and a perception among Democrats that Trump intends to “deport everybody.”
On a “superficial level,” Penn State College Democrats secretary O’Neill Kennedy said she agrees that a citizenship question harms nobody, but she expressed concern about the “practical implications.”
Kennedy (junior-international politics) said elected officials have an obligation to act on behalf of everyone within their legislative districts, not only legal residents. Without a proper count of residents in areas with high immigrant populations, she said, the more policies enacted by the government would harm their interests.
“Our view of politics doesn’t have to be so citizenship-centric,” Kennedy said. “Regardless of whether you’re here legally, everyone in the United States has a right to be treated fairly and humanely."