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Citizenship Question Could Impact 2020 Census in Idaho

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The 2020 Census begins in less than a year. (14ktgold/Adobe Stock)
The 2020 Census begins in less than a year. (14ktgold/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID - Producer, Contact
April 22, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – Idaho has a lot riding on an accurate 2020 Census count, but concerns are growing that a citizenship question could skew results.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will review a request from the Justice Department to add a question about a person's citizenship status to the Census.

Greg Hill, director of the Idaho Policy Institute, says an accurate Census is important for two big reasons: proper representation in elections and federal funding.

But he says some Hispanic Idahoans, who make up about 11 percent of the population, could be wary of how their census data will be used and not complete it, negatively affecting the entire state.

"If there is a population that is afraid to fill out the question because it could somehow impact them individually, the state level impact is broad as well,” he states. “And it doesn't just affect the Hispanic families that are filling it out, but it'd affect the entire community they live in, the county and the state as well."

According to a George Washington University study, Idaho receives more than $2.4 billion annually from federal programs that rely on Census data.

Lower courts have blocked the citizenship question from being included, but Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose agency oversees the Census Bureau, says the question is necessary to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The 2020 Census is likely to reveal the Gem State's rapid expansion over the past decade.

In the past two years, the Census Bureau found Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the country and research from the University of Idaho says the Hispanic population accounts for more than a quarter of the state's growth between 2010 to 2017.

Hill says the increasing population makes it even more important to get the count right.

"We need to know who those people are and where they live so we can reapportion in a way that they're all represented and so that's really important for us – the fact that we're growing so quickly,” he states. “The people who are moving here deserve the right to be represented, and this is the only way we can do it."

The Census Bureau has asked the Supreme Court to resolve the citizenship question by June. The 2020 Census kicks off in less than a year, on April 1.

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