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Census 2020: Citizenship question’s failure delivers relief to Brooklyn’s immigrant communities

July 3, 2019 Kelly Mena
Demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court in late June. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
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Brooklyn’s immigrant communities hailed a decision Tuesday to withdraw a proposed controversial citizenship question on next year’s census form, calling it a major victory in the fight against the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant efforts.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will print the Census 2020 form without the citizenship question, which would have directed respondents to disclose their citizenship status. Local immigration groups and elected officials argued the question was a ploy to identify illegal immigrants, and would have a chilling effect that could reduce response rates.

Census figures factor in obtaining federal funding for health care, schools, housing, security, infrastructure, transportation and more. An undercounted population means Brooklyn could lose out on much-needed funding. A total of approximately $700 billion is distributed annually to states across the country through approximately 300 different census-guided federal grant and funding programs, according to the Mayor’s Office.

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Javier H. Valdés, the co-executive director of Make the Road New York, which was a co-plaintiff in a legal challenge that landed before the Supreme Court, hailed the move as a victory for all immigrants.

“Our community has won an enormous battle to keep this reckless question out of the upcoming census. As the administration tried to subvert our democracy and erase us, together we fought back and won,” Valdés said.

Breakdown of Immigration Population by Borough. Data Graphic via NYC Office of Immigrant Affairs

The Trump administration originally announced the addition of the question in early March 2018, with Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross arguing the question would help to enforce the Voting Rights Act (a bill that bolsters protection for minority voters).

The U.S Supreme Court delivered the proposal a setback last week, ruling that the administration’s justification was “inadequate” — but sent the case back to the lower courts. The court’s decision created uncertainty around the proposed question, leaving open the possibility that the administration could renew its efforts in the lower courts.

Undocumented residents feared that revealing their status could lead to expulsion. The last time this question was included in the census was in 1965. Results of census polling are not supposed to be shared with other federal agencies.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who serves on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Asian American Caucus, immediately took to social media last night to applaud the announcement and note the need for a fair count.

“Relieved the #2020Census will not contain a citizenship question. This is a win for our democracy and all Americans. I still fear that great damage has been done in dissuading immigrant communities from participating. My office will continue outreach to ensure everyone is counted,” read her twitter post.

The Census Bureau’s staff estimated that adding a citizenship question could depress responses in households with at least one noncitizen by as much as 5.8 percent. That could be particularly damaging in states like New York or California, which have large immigrant populations.

Nearly 1 million immigrants live in Brooklyn, with a total of 3.2 million immigrants across all five boroughs. Brooklyn is home to large immigrant populations of Chinese, Haitian and Caribbean residents.

The largest overseas Chinese population outside of China is located in Sunset Park. According to the U.S. Census Bureau as of July 2018, the Asian/Pacific community makes up nearly 13 percent of the borough.

According to the 2017 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, of the foreign-born Brooklyn residents, 283,533 are Asian; 183,164 are Latin American; and 261,237 are Non-Hispanic Caribbean (including 50,545 Haitians).

Haitian immigrants predominantly live in Flatbush, Canarsie, Crown Heights, and East Flatbush as well as in the Queens neighborhoods of Cambria Heights, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens, Jamaica and Rosedale.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Caribbean Caucus and represents the largest population of Haitian and Caribbean immigrants in Brooklyn, welcomed the news and looked forward to getting an accurate census count.

“We celebrate that with no citizenship question people can participate in the 2020 Census without fear, ensuring every voice across American will be counted. Black and Brown communities are already underrepresented on the Census, which directly impacts vitally-important resources  to these communities based on these Census counts,” Clarke said.

The Brooklyn-based Haitian American Caucus, led by Executive Director Sam Pierre, lauded the decision as an opportunity to focus on underserved communities of color.

“Immigrant communities can now fill out the questionnaire without the fear of being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This is a step in the right direction especially for communities that have faced disenfranchisement for so long in this country,” the the caucus told the Brooklyn Eagle.

The constitutionally mandated census is supposed to count all people living in the U.S., including noncitizens and immigrants living in the country illegally. The census will take place throughout 2020 with a reference day for responses being April 1, 2020.

The count, conducted every 10 years, also determines the number of representatives each state has in the House of Representatives and affects the redrawing of state and federal election districts. New York State could lose one congressional seat if the 2020 Census count is inaccurate.

“This is an enormous, historic victory for immigrants, for New Yorkers, for the City, and for the entire nation,” said Julie Menin, director of NYC Census 2020 in a statement. “Make no mistake: with this win, it is clear that the Trump Administration cannot use its constitutional obligation to count us as a tool to harm us. We won’t be invisible, we won’t be silenced, and we will be counted.”


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