Immigrant groups must sue to ensure the citizenship question is dropped from the next census

Felicia Persaud | 4/5/2018, 3:36 p.m.

It is a known fact that a major concern in every decennial census is getting immigrants and populations of color across the U.S. to fill out and return the form. In immigrant and Black communities, census officials often spend a lot of time and effort on forming partnerships with community groups to garner trust to ensure immigrants and African-Americans, especially, understand the importance of the census and the need for them to respond.

In the 2010 census, a lot of the messaging surrounded the fact that the information collected had nothing to do with immigration status and would not be shared with any immigration agencies. As someone who worked closely with the 2010 census, including advocating as founder of CaribID from 2009 to ensure Caribbean immigrants had a way to count on the form through a write-in campaign and through an educational-media campaign to push many to fill out and return the form, I know firsthand how difficult the task of boosting the response rate is.

As we count down to the 2020 census, the Trump administration has dealt a death blow to the future census count, with the addition of a citizenship question to the digital form.

Dr. Sunshine Hillygus, a professor at Duke University who serves on the census Scientific Advisory Committee, is absolutely right to respond to this bold-faced, political move to—wink, wink—“Make America Great Again,” by exclaiming, “What the hell?”

In an immigrant community already existing in an era of heightened fear of being rounded up and deported for minor infractions, including driving under the influence, I know this blatantly racist and political move will definitely have an impact on 2020 census tally, leading to redistricting, fewer immigrant representatives, less funding in immigrant communities and a host of other issues that we will only see after the count.

It is why immigrant associations, especially legal ones such as the Caribbean Bar Association, must join the NAACP and attorneys general across the U.S., in suing the federal government to stop this xenophobic outrage. As the NAACP lawsuit states, our immigrant community groups must also sue to combat the imminent threat that the 2020 census will substantially undercount immigrant and other people of color in communities throughout the United States.

Not since before the Civil Rights Act of 1965, has the citizenship question been asked of all respondents—that is not since 1950 to be exact.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in allowing the new question, claims riotously that it will help enforce the Voting Rights Act, which is supposed to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. He knows very well it will have the opposite effect because it is a clearly orchestrated political move aimed at stymieing the rising Black and immigrant voting bloc.

In addition, the 2020 census questionnaire will be digital and only available online, which will help boost low response rates as well, leading to incomplete and inaccurate data that could affect congressional districts and the allocation of federal funding, particularly in immigrant-populated districts.

We as immigrants, community organizations and immigrant elected officials must fight now for all of our futures in this country, because this question marks another brazen attempt to roll back our civil rights. It is time to stand up and fight as if our future depends on it—because it does!

The writer is CMO at Hard Beat Communications, Inc. which owns the brands NewsAmericasNow, CaribPRWire and InvestCaribbeanNow.