Almost a quarter million people will have to answer a citizenship question from the U.S. Census Bureau this year, despite the Supreme Court’s denial of the Trump administration’s bid to add the question to the 2020 Census.
At least one Waco resident has received the 2019 Census Test, which is a 10-question survey sent out to 480,000 households in the U.S. to test the “operational effects of including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census,” according to a press release the Census Bureau published last month.
The 2019 Census Test randomly assigns households to two groups and asks them to respond to 2020 Census questions. One group’s list includes the citizenship question.
“Findings from the nationwide test will assist in determining updates to 2020 Census operations, such as how many census takers are needed to follow up with nonresponding households and how to better communicate with households about the 2020 Census,” the press release states.
But Waco attorney Alan Nelson is not buying that. He represents the resident who received the survey, and his client is of Hispanic origin, he said.
“It appears to be targeting minorities,” Nelson said. “They get this census test, which is supposed to measure the impact of the 2020 Census, but they have a question on there which, in my opinion, is illegal and at a minimum in great dispute.”
The survey starts out by reminding the respondents they are required by law to answer the questions. It then asks how many people were living or staying in the household on July 1. Other questions inquire about the type of home — apartment, mobile home, house — and whether it is rented or owned. Others ask the person’s gender, age and date of birth.
No. 8 asks “Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?” No. 9 asks for the person’s race, and No. 10 asks if the person is a citizen of the United States.
The answer options include:
- “Yes, born in the United States”
- “Yes, born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Northern Marianas”
- “Yes, born abroad of U.S. citizen parent or parents”
- “Yes, U.S. citizen by naturalization – print year of naturalization” (includes blank box to fill in)
- “No, not a U.S. citizen”
The Census Bureau did not respond to a request for comment.
Census Bureau records indicate test surveys are commonly used to evaluate the wording of questions and the effectiveness of outreach strategies, both for the decennial census and for the more frequent American Community Surveys. An informational page on a 2014 Census Test, for example, states the test was intended to gauge in part how cost-effective certain strategies are for encouraging people to respond to the 2020 Census on their own or for following up with people who do not respond on their own.
However, Nelson said the recent test has a harmful effect.
“This is part of a move to create an environment of fear and hatred of people who aren’t white,” Nelson said. “Everybody knows this question has been in dispute for several months, and it’s concerning because the Census Bureau is supposed to be an independent agency, with the information you provide kept confidential.”
Households in Idaho also have received the same census test, the Idaho Statesman reported. Residents in California’s Bay Area also received surveys with the citizenship question, the Mercury News reported.
Nelson said the survey in conjunction with the current political climate, as families are being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, children are caged, and President Donald Trump directs harsh rhetoric toward minorities, refugees and people who are not U.S. citizens, creates a heightened sense of fear among minority communities.
“The repercussions of this question affect all of us in Texas and any other state with a great number of documented and undocumented immigrants,” Nelson said. “It creates a fear in which they won’t answer the census, and that affects future planning. That affects all of us.”
The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, according to the bureau’s website. The information the bureau gathers is used to determine how many seats in the U.S. House of Representatives each state receives and define legislative districts. The results also are used to distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.
Local governments often use the census data to determine future infrastructure planning, such as where to build roads and schools. Additionally, the federal dollars local governments receive fund services including homelessness initiatives, housing assistance programs and public health services.
According to the latest census data available, McLennan County is about 27% Hispanic.
“These questions have no use for future planning,” Nelson said. “It has the effect of politicizing a function of our government that up until this administration has been fairly apolitical.”
He said including the citizenship question on the census test brings out the worst in all of us.
“We all are human, and we all suffer from our darker side,” Nelson said. “To whip up this fear of people who are different, regardless of their ethnicity or national origin or race, is not conducive to anything constructive. It simply divides us and divides us and divides us until bad things happens.”