Immigrant groups fight Trump administration for an accurate census

Students and union members holding signs and chanting between speakers at City Hall on Oct. 11. Photo by Shahar Golan

Amidst the latest legal developments surrounding the Trump Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the US Census, New York Counts 2020 and partner organizations gathered outside City Hall on October 11 to oppose the addition and to highlight the importance of an accurate count. 

Some 80 organizations including the South Bronx-based Mexican American Students Alliance (MASA) and Garifuna Coalition USA Inc., are part of the New York Counts 2020 campaign, which is run by the New York Immigration Coalition. Speakers at the event focused on neighborhoods with large immigrant communities and told the group of about 30 immigration advocates, students, and union members that the citizenship question is designed to scare immigrants from answering the census.

Advocates worry that the controversial question and the administration’s attitude on immigration could contribute to a miscount. Conducted once a decade, the census determines funding for infrastructure projects and public services, as well as representation in congress. Areas with dense immigrant population tend to favor democrats; a miscount in such areas could decrease their congressional representation, and funding for services and infrastructure. 

Jorge Luis Vasquez Jr, an Associate Counsel at Latino Justice, says that the effort to ensure an accurate count has to focus on the South Bronx because of its large immigrant community, and large non-English speaking community. 

Vasquez said that businesses also use the census, adding that a miscount in the South Bronx could hurt the local economy. Afua Atta-Mensah, executive director of Community Voices Heard, said that it is crucial to educate residents about the census so they understand what is at stake.

During her time organizing for racial, economic, and social justice across the city and the Hudson Valley, Atta-Mensah said she has observed that undocumented immigrants and legal residents alike are feeling fearful of the federal authorities. Immigrants and minority populations are scared because of the “administration’s fear mongering” and “other-ing of communities of color,” she said.

Mensah says that In “a climate where families are ripped apart and children are in detention centers, she added,” immigrants will be afraid to open the door to census takers during the door-to-door count.  

Elizabeth OuYang, Census Consultant at the New York Immigration Coalition, says that as an umbrella organization their strategy is to train community leaders, who will in turn educate the community. OuYang hopes that education on the census will be integrated into other services immigration groups provide, like voter registration and English language classes.  

The American Civil Liberties Union has joined the coalition and four other groups in filing a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against the administration, claiming that the citizenship question is intentional discrimination. 

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in March the addition of the citizenship question. In congressional testimony Ross stated that the Justice Department initiated the move to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. Internal communications within the administration that began surfacing in June contradict Ross’s testimony. Released documents suggest Ross asked the department to initiate the question. 

The plaintiffs want Ross to be deposed and questioned on his motives. The lower courts called for a deposition. The administration responded by appealing to the Supreme Court for a stay. 

OuYang hopes that the courts will ensure that the citizenship question won’t be included on the census. She says that regardless of the legal outcome she will continue to fight for an accurate count.