Seattle preps for census, says citizenship question could intimidate immigrants

The U.S. Census bureau announced plans to include questions about citizenship on the 2020 Census. (Photo by U.S. Census Bureau.)

Citing concerns that a new question about citizenship on the 2020 Census will intimidate immigrants, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced on Wednesday announced the creation of a Census Task Force to help make sure that all residents in King County participate.

The Department of Commerce, which runs the census, announced plans to include a new question asking respondents about their citizenship status, a move that critics, including Seattle and King County officials, say could intimidate immigrants from participating in the the census.

“This administration continues with its unlawful attempts to push our immigrant and refugee communities further into the shadows and not be counted,” Durkan said in the press release. “Seattle was the fastest growing city over the past decade and an accurate census count is the only way our city will receive much-needed resources. Billions of dollars are at risk for our schools, hospitals, transportation infrastructure, and housing investments.”

The city joins King County and other local efforts to ensure that all local residents participate in the 2020 Census. Participating groups include representatives from immigrant communities, organized labor, the education community and other community organizations, according to a city press release.

In the last census, 20 percent of Seattle residents didn’t fill out their census form, which resulted in an in-person visit from the census bureau staff. According to Durkan’s office, including the citizenship question on the census form will result in lower participation and an undercount of people, which could result in a lack of funding and services for immigrant residents and residents of communities of color.

Every ten years, the Census Bureau counts each person who lives in the United States. The government uses the data to determine the number of Congressional representatives for each state, to allocate annual federal assistance, and guides important decisions on schools, housing, health care services, investments, businesses.

According to Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of the Department of Commerce, which runs the Census Bureau, the Trump administration’s decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census is “to better enforce the Voting Rights Act” — the federal law that prohibits policies that are shown to suppress voters based on race.

But the citizenship question has resulted in pushback from a group of state attorneys general and advocacy groups saying it is an attempt to suppress accurate counts of immigrant communities, who might be afraid to tell a government employee about their citizenship status. The question has not been on the decennial census since 1950.

In 2015, Washington State received about $13.7 billion dollars from federal assistance programs based on 2010 census data. According to Durkan’s office, immigrants in Seattle account for 17 percent of the population.

Seattle’s Census Task Force will be led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA) Executive Director Mahnaz Eshetu.

“The City of Seattle must genuinely listen to individuals and organizations within these communities on how to best engage our residents in the 2020 Census,” Mosqueda said in a prepared statement. “The results of the 2020 Census will determine a myriad policy decisions, including funding for sufficient public health response and prevention programs, affordable housing funding, and economic development strategies.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine said he backed the city’s efforts.

“The Trump administration wants to use fear and intimidation to discourage our immigrant and refugee neighbors from participating in the census,” Constantine said in a prepared statement. “I appreciate Mayor Durkan’s commitment to a regional strategy that ensures everyone who lives in King County has a voice in the future of our region, state, and country.”

Seattle earlier this year joined a lawsuit opposing the proposed citizenship question. The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of more than 30 Attorneys General, counties, cities, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors submitted public comment to the U.S. Department of Commerce opposing the citizenship question.

Late July, federal judge Jesse Furman, backed by 18 states and the District of Columbia rejected Trump’s request to dismiss the multi-party lawsuit which challenges the addition of the 2020 Census citizenship question.

As part of the federal public comment on the citizenship question proposal, Durkan noted that noncitizens pay many federal taxes.

“As of 2015, an estimated $23.6 billion of the money in our federal treasury came from the very people that may be undercounted,” she wrote.

1 Comment

  1. I am sorry, don’t we want to know how many non-citizens are living. Question is not asking if one is illegal or what. It is a simple question. Everybody seems to throw numbers without any basis. One can find solution, if starting with real numbers. What is one afraid of?

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