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Latino Groups Push Back on Citizenship Question for Census

Critics say a citizenship question proposed for the 2020 census could lead to a large undercount of Latinos. (U.S. Census Bureau)
Critics say a citizenship question proposed for the 2020 census could lead to a large undercount of Latinos. (U.S. Census Bureau)
February 14, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Latino groups are praising a protest letter sent to the Trump administration by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and leaders from 17 other states opposing a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The Department of Justice recently asked the Census Bureau to add a citizenship question, saying it would help with enforcing the Voting Rights Act. Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, said many people would be deterred from participating in the census for fear their information would be shared with immigration authorities.

"I think it would endanger the census from getting anything close to an accurate count," he said. "I think the administration knows that, and I think the administration is proposing it to decrease the count from the Latino population in particular."

Civil rights groups are hoping that the Census Bureau will reject the request because it is too far along in the process of preparing for the 2020 census. The census takes place every 10 years and is used to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives and in state and local districts. It also is used to allocate federal funds. California is not expected to lose any congressional seats, but Saenz said an undercount of the Latino community would lessen its political power, particularly in states where the population growth is primarily Hispanic.

"It does mean that seats which might end up being Latino-majority congressional seats in Texas, Florida and the other states would instead stay in less-Latino states," he said.

The U.S. Constitution requires that all persons be counted in the census, not all citizens. The coalition of attorneys general claims it's a violation of the census clause to knowingly structure the census in a way that would result in a significant undercount.

The letter is online at oag.ca.gov.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA