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New Census Question Will Test Trust of Immigrants

A dozen states, including New Mexico, say they intend to sue the Trump administration for including a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census. (news.psu.edu)
A dozen states, including New Mexico, say they intend to sue the Trump administration for including a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census. (news.psu.edu)
April 2, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – One expert in New Mexico doesn't think including a question about citizenship on the 2020 U.S. Census will affect the results nearly as much as critics claim.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights has called inclusion of the citizenship question "untimely, unnecessary and untested." But Lonna Rae Atkeson, director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections, and Democracy at the University of New Mexico, says people who are skeptical of the government's motives may already be unresponsive to inquiries about their households.

"There could be a small decline, and I think it's likely there would be a very small decline,” says Atkeson. “But those people who are already afraid to talk to the government? They're not going to respond anyway, whether that question is on there or not. If you have that distrust, you're not going to participate."

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the question is necessary to provide accurate citizenship data to the Justice Department.

The census has about a 70 percent response rate, and most immigrants live in states that did not support President Donald Trump. Some Democrats warn that an inaccurate census count could unfairly affect the reapportionment process that determines who controls the House of Representatives in the decade that follows the census.

Atkeson notes the census has always been a tool for the controlling political party.

"We can look back and see this politicization of the census, whoever is the out-party. And I mean some of it is real alarm, but some of it is also this politicization," she says.

The question about U.S. citizenship hasn't been included on the census since 1950.

Atkeson says even if people choose not to participate, the Census Bureau sends out workers to follow up.

"They physically send people out to those households, they knock on their doors and they ask them those questions,” she says. “And if those people still won't answer those questions, then they actually go to their neighbor and they ask those questions."

New Mexico is one of twelve states that has signaled its intention to sue the Trump administration over including a citizenship question.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM