Census question about citizenship could cost Arizonans money, clout in Congress
A last-minute decision by the Trump administration to reinstate a citizenship question in the 2020 census could hurt Arizona more than most states because of its large immigrant population.
Immigrant households in Arizona are already wary of taking part in the census, critics say, the result of the state's efforts to drive out undocumented immigrants through laws such as Senate Bill 1070, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's worksite raids and neighborhood sweeps.
The federal government inquiring about citizenship status as part of its official decennial count could further dissuade immigrants from participating, leading to a sizable undercount of the state's population.
The consequences could be significant and lasting.
Census population data is used to determine the number of House seats apportioned to each state, as well as corresponding electoral votes in presidential elections. Arizona has gained at least one House seat in Congress following each census since 1960 because the state has gained population relative to other states. Failing to fully count the population in a fast-growing state like Arizona would hurt the state's chances at an additional seat in Congress.
An undercount could also cost the state federal funding distributed based on census data for programs such as Medicare, Title 1 school funding, highway construction and lower-income housing subsidies. Arizona receives about $13.5 billion in federal census-driven funding.
"Arizona is one of the states that could be particularly affected with the citizenship question, given its recent history with how immigrants have been treated there by government agencies," said Arturo Vargas,executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. "I'm referring of course to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, but also actions that the Legislature has taken to create a hostile environment towards immigrants."
'I would be afraid'
The Commerce Department, which oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, announced Monday that it was adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census for the first time in 70 years. The Commerce Department noted that prior to 1950, a citizenship question was routinely included and said the decision to reinstate it was being done at the request of the Justice Department.
The Justice Department argues citizenship data is needed to help enforce the Voting Rights Act, which is intended to protect minority voters from discrimination.
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Though Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross acknowledged concerns that a citizenship question could exacerbate undercounts in minority communities, the department after a review concluded that "the Census Bureau's analysis did not provide definitive, empirical support for that belief."
But Lucia, a 40 year-old Mexican immigrant without legal status, said she would be reluctant to fill out a census form that included a question about citizenship.
The Tempe resident has lived in the U.S. for 14 years and has four children. Two are U.S. citizens; one is undocumented; and another is temporarily protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump is trying to end.
“I would be afraid it could be a way of collecting information to conduct immigration round-ups,” said Lucia, who asked that her full name not be published because of her immigration status.
Could hurt red states too
Critics contend the decision to include a citizenship question is a politically motivated ruse by the Trump administration to undercount minorities in Democratic states with large immigrant populations, such as California and New York, causing them to lose federal funding and political clout.
The attorney general in California immediately filed a lawsuit to prevent inclusion of the citizenship question in the 2020 census. The attorney general in New York is leading a similar multi-state lawsuit. All of the attorneys general taking legal action are Democrats.
Gov. Doug Ducey, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the matter.
Republican states that voted for Trump with fast-growing immigrant populations also stand to lose out if the citizenship question leads to an undercount, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group.
“He’s hanging his voters out to dry in his effort to hurt California. My guess on this is that the administration thought they could lessen the political influence of places like California and New York, places that have long-standing immigration populations. But their assumptions are wrong," Noorani said. "It’s actually the places with the fastest-growing immigration populations that need the full support that comes with a fair census. The state that’s going to be hurt more is Nebraska, not California.”
Eight of the 10 states with the fastest-growing foreign-born populations, including Nebraska, voted for Trump, Noorani said.
Republican states with large Latino populations, such as Arizona and Texas, could also be disproportionately affected. But they may be less inclined to join a lawsuit, because census data is also used to redraw political boundaries at the state level, said Lisa Magaña, a professor and interim director of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University.
"If we have a state where Latinos are being undercounted, it serves to preserve the Republican base," Magaña said.
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Arizona experienced a significant undercount during the last census,
The 2010 undercount of Latino children ages 4 and under totaled 32,000, the fourth-highest undercount of any state for that age group, according to a 2016 report by the NALEO Education Fund.
Vargas attributed much of that undercount to the state's immigration climate at the time, as well as the recession and housing crisis, which displaced families and created additional challenges for census-takers.
Even before the citizenship-status question was finalized for 2020, officials and civil-rights advocates worried about an undercount of Arizona's Native American population.
They've pointed to the lack of high-speed internet on reservations; officials' failure to translate materials into Native languages; and the cancellation of census field tests on tribal lands as barriers to an accurate count.
Undercounting Arizona's Native population could compound the effects of the citizenship-status question in terms of political power and federal dollars, advocacy groups say.
"Frankly, it's raiding resources from communities who have contributed to the pot," said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, deputy vice president at UnidosUS. "Any attempt to fuel an undercount…would have an objective of taking resources and voice away from those communities."
Working to count everyone
Immigrants make up 13.5 percent of the state's population, the 11th highest share of any state, according to the Pew Research Center. There were 370,000 undocumented immigrants in Arizona as of January 2014, according to the last estimate by the Department of Homeland Security.
Arizona has one of the fastest growing Asian-American populations. Between 2000 and 2010, it grew 95 percent to 230,900, the second fastest of any state, according to Asia Matters for America.
Lloyd Asato, chair of the Arizona Asian American Chamber of Commerce, said Asian-American leaders are "concerned" about a citizenship question, given that Asians have been undercounted in the past.
"Certainly, it sends the wrong message to community members who are noncitizens or part of mixed-status families, which there are in our community," he said "It seems politically motivated to prevent an accurate count of immigrant communities, and that includes Asians and Pacific Islanders."
Advocacy groups have been gearing up to make sure members of minority groups are not undercounted in the 2020 census, said Tony Navarrete, deputy director of Promise Arizona. The advocacy group has helped organize efforts to increase Latino participation in the census.
Navarrete is also a Democratic state representative in the Arizona Legislature. The majority of the 200,000 residents in his district covering west Phoenix and Glendale are Latino, many of them immigrants.
"Our goal is to count every single person in this state to make sure no one feels uncomfortable filling out this form," Navarrete said.
That will be more challenging amid the heightened immigration enforcement under the Trump administration, noted Vargas, of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
Advocacy groups have advised immigrants not to open their doors should ICE come knocking, and to not respond to questions about their immigration status should police ask.
"Then along comes...a census enumerator, and somehow then we have to convince these people that these federal employees are trustworthy, and you should answer their questions and you should open your door to them," Vargas said. "That is the phenomenon that we have to deal with."
USA TODAY reporter Alan Gomez contributed to this article.