Census 2020: Fears Remain Even After Citizenship Question Blocked

Mar 5, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration's efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, but immigrant rights advocates say the controversy has created a chilling effect that could lead to an undercount.

In 2016, census numbers were tapped to calculate and deliver more than $13 billion for Colorado programs, roughly $2,300 per resident.
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Ananiya Asrat, a volunteer with the Colorado People's Alliance, says his group is going door to door, reminding Colorado residents, many of whom remain distrustful of an administration openly hostile to immigrants, that participating in the census is safe, and important.

"The census impacts everything we care about, like health care, education and infrastructure," Asrat points out. "And that's why we should do everything in our power to be a part of it.

"Every Census Bureau employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life."

Census numbers determine how the federal government distributes taxpayer dollars to states for education, food assistance, health care, housing and many children's programs.

All data collected in the count is confidential and cannot be used to determine eligibility for government assistance.

An undercount also can lead to under-representation in government. Seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allocated, and state legislative districts are redrawn, based on census numbers.

Asrat says the U.S. Constitution calls for a complete count every 10 years of all people living in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status.

"There is not a citizenship question, and regardless, your answers cannot be used against you or shared with other agencies," he explains. "The census is about the power of our communities, and we will not be excluded."

A law that requires that census data remain confidential for 72 years means that law enforcement agencies, including local police, the FBI and ICE, and even the president of the United States, cannot access names, addresses or other personal information from the census.

Anyone breaking that law can be sentenced to five years behind bars and receive a fine of up to $250,000.