As county and city officials continue to work toward a complete count on the 2020 census, one question remains unanswered that may influence if the goal is possible.
Whether the question of citizenship status may appear on next year’s census.
In April, the citizenship question will go before the Supreme Court after the it was challenged by the state of New York, but that hasn’t stopped local officials from advocating for the question's exclusion.
Case and point, both Coconino County Supervisor Liz Archuleta and County Treasurer Sarah Benatar worry if the question is included, Hispanic populations will be dissuaded from filling out the census.
“There’s been a significant under-count of Latinos and children in the United States over the years in the census and if there is a citizenship question on the ballot, the concern is that further inhibits people from actually participating in the census,” Archuleta said. “There is fear from people about what will be done with that information, if that information will be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”
Archuleta, who is also a member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, added that the question's inclusion could lead to an under-count of Hispanic populations across the county, state and nation.
During a city council meeting on March 19, the Flagstaff City Council agreed to file an amicus brief in support of New York in the Supreme Court case. This allows the city to make its voice heard by the court without becoming involved in the lawsuit.
Archuleta said the county has not looked at such action yet, but hoped the Board of Supervisors will file a similar brief against a citizenship question.
An under-count is a possibility in Arizona even without a question regarding citizenship, with children being especially affected.
In 2010, an estimated 32,000 Hispanic children were not counted in Arizona, placing the state in the top five for under-counts regarding the demographic.
Often, Benatar said, under-counts are caused by simple misunderstandings or fear of being caught doing something wrong. For example, a family might not know to include everyone who lives in the household on the census and leave off extended family members, or believe there is an age requirement for the census.
“I come from an immigrant family. My mom became a citizen just a couple of years ago so I know from previous census, 2000, 2010 just even understanding; our family didn’t know how to understand the form,” Benatar, who is also president of the National Association of Hispanic County Officials, said.
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Archuleta added that the census, as set out in the constitution, is not a count of citizens but simply of everyone living within the United States.
Predicting the effects
In a study published earlier this month, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census would have significant impacts on the number of questions answered by those taking the census.
These effects were “particularly strong” among Hispanics, the study reads.
Researchers concluded that a question regarding citizenship on the census would likely lead to a national under-count of the Hispanic population by between 3.8 million to 4.6 million people.
“[The study] starts to paint a picture of, this could significantly impact a huge population,” Benatar said. “It will really impact everything from the funding we receive down on the locals level to congressional representation.”
The census count heavily influences the funding of programs by federal and state agencies, estimated at about $1,900 per person counted.
The Harvard study was the first to show what the impact of including a citizenship question could be on the census as it was not included on the test count the census conducted last year.
The county is already doing work to spread information on the census to Hispanic communities, as well as other populations that are at risk for an under-count such as Native Americans, but that work may become a lot harder should the question appear on the census, Archuleta said.
A new campaign stared by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials is planned to begin April 1 and will work to inform Hispanic communities about the census and get community leaders involved, Archuleta said.
Archuleta said she has also met with the Census Director Steven Dillingham and spoke with him about concerns about an under-count, especially in rural counties, as well as the citizenship question.
In her role as president of the National Association of Hispanic County Officials, she added she has also been working to make sure county officials across the country are informed and have the help they need preparing for the 2020 census.