The Department of Commerce announced earlier this year that a citizenship question will be included on the 2020 census. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has reportedly pushed for inclusion of the question, arguing that it would allow the department to better enforce the Voting Rights Act – designed to secure the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country.
The DOJ submitted a last-minute request for the citizenship question to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who approved the request in March. The DOJ says it needs a better count of voting-age citizens to enforce the Voting Rights Act’s protections against discrimination of racial and language minorities. Since the law was enacted in 1965, the government has relied on estimates of U.S. citizens based on a smaller Census Bureau survey known as the American Community Survey (ACS), which only reaches 2.6% of the population. But, the DOJ says it now requires citizenship data collected from every U.S. household through the census.
Last week, your Chamber sent a letter to Secretary Ross urging him to conduct additional field tests that include a citizenship question in order to determine the question’s effect on response rate, for it is our fear that its inclusion could have detrimental consequences to our community. Our community relies on an accurate census count to secure the federal resources that sustain our economic growth and ensure our region has fair federal representation. Your Chamber firmly believes that the citizenship question will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities such as San Antonio.
More than two dozen states and cities are suing the Trump administration to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 census form. They cite research by the Census Bureau that suggests asking about citizenship could discourage noncitizens, especially unauthorized immigrants, from participating in the census. This is particularly concerning for San Antonio since 14.2% of our population is foreign-born and 63.6% are Hispanic or Latino, according to the American Community Survey (ACS) 2012-2016 projections.
The San Antonio region is expected to see a population growth of more than one million residents by 2040. The census informs the distribution of more than $600 billion in federal funding for the cornerstones of economic growth including infrastructure, healthcare, education, and workforce training. It is imperative that San Antonio and the surrounding region is accurately represented in the census to strategically manage our growth and maintain our success. Any barriers to achieving an accurate count would hinder our ability to serve the needs of our growing community, of which 24.3% are living below the poverty level.
Bexar County in particular has had historic challenges implementing the census. According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 25% of Bexar County’s current population (or 469,564 people) lives in hard-to-count neighborhoods. Without an accurate census count, more households in these and other neighborhoods in the county are at risk of being missed in the 2020 census.
In addition, the 2020 census will launch a new, digital format. This is particularly problematic for San Antonio, as there is a growing digital divide. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, 19.5% of Bexar County’s households had either no internet subscriptions or dial-up only access. Further, those disconnected San Antonians are predominantly older, uneducated, and either unemployed or not participating in the labor force – those residents most in need of federally funded services whose funding is determined by census data.
Although citizenship questions have been asked yearly in the American Community Survey, the ACS only reaches 2.6% of the population. Your Chamber is strongly concerned that including a citizenship questions will threaten the accuracy and confidentiality of the head count.