By Steve Young
The decision by President Trump to require a citizenship question as part of the 2020 census has serious implications for the city of Benicia, Solano County and the state of California. The inclusion of this question, which has not been part of the regular census since 1950, virtually guarantees that there will be a significant undercount, with the result costing Benicia and the rest of California significant sums of money.
The inclusion of the question seems aimed directly at urban centers and states with large immigrant populations. These populations, already on edge with the deportation raids by ICE will be understandably nervous about any interaction with federal officials asking questions about their immigration status. Immigrants, documented or not, contribute heavily to the economy and pay significant taxes. They drive on the same roads and require many of the same services from local governments (although they are not eligible to receive federal benefits directly).
It has been estimated that the areas where people are undercounted will see their federal contributions for such things as transportation, public health care and infrastructure support decline by nearly $2,000 per person. Per year. For 10 years.
As soon as this change was announced, 19 states–including California– sued the Commerce Department. Among their arguments was that the move was clearly unconstitutional. Article 2 of the US Constitution calls for an “actual enumeration” of people every 10 years. Not just citizens — people. According to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, “including a citizenship question will diminish response rates, and the census will not be able to fulfill its constitutional duty to count everyone.”
More than $600 billion is appropriated across state and local governments each year based on the census reports. An immigrant-heavy region whose population is underreported could lose public health dollars — as well as funding for food programs, school programs, and funding for public health services.
Four former census directors warned in a 2015 legal filing that any effort to add a question about citizenship for all households in the count would seriously undermine its accuracy. “The sum effect would be bad census data,” they wrote of the idea. “And any effort to correct for the data would be futile. Not counting people translates into communities not receiving funding, and that’s equally egregious in a way… It really translates into dollars for services and healthcare.”
It is in the interest of the City of Benicia, our region and our state that ALL people be counted in the 2020 census, and that the citizenship question be removed from the census forms.
Steve Young is the vice mayor of Benicia.