12 August, 2020

Citizenship query a threat to U.S. census, witness says as trial begins

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Adding a citizenship question towards the 2020 U.S. Census questionnaire will yield a “systemic undercount” of immigrants by frightening some clear of responding, warned a witness about the first day of a trial that may shape the U.S. political landscape for any decade.

The inclusion of the citizenship question was announced in March by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who billed it as a a way to enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minorities against voter discrimination.

The Trump administration’s move stirred controversy, prompting 18 states and 15 cities suit it. The plaintiffs argued the popular question is actually meant to depress participation within the census by immigrants, who usually tend to reside in Democratic-leaning areas.

Testifying for states, cities and civil rights groups through the trial’s first day on Monday, Duke University political scientist Sunshine Hillygus said adding the issue to the once-a-decade census “will end up in systemic undercount of Hispanic and non-citizen households” plus there is little the Census Bureau is capable of doing to avoid that.

Citing several studies, including by way of the Census Bureau itself, Hillygus said the question will make Hispanics and immigrants unlikely to make out their census forms, fearing citizenship data could be used against them.

If true, that will have a long-lasting impact. Population data collected on the census determines how states divide seats in the home of Representatives, and guides just how the government disperses $800 billion in annual federal aid.

The government denies any pretext in adding the citizenship question, and says the Census Bureau could mitigate any disappearance of the response rate by having a full count through outreach campaigns bya following on the top of non-responders.

But Hillygus said people hesitant to fill out their census forms can be just as reluctant to cooperate with census-takers.

She testified which a person’s odds of answering a survey depends partly on the survey itself, particularly the amount stress it causes the respondent to fill out.

“If I ask my students concerning marijuana use, they can be happy to answer to get an academic researcher, but more unlikely to answer a boss,” she said.

Ross’ motives are central within the case, but it’s unclear how deeply the plaintiffs can probe them. The last Court has, for the moment, blocked the plaintiffs from deposing Ross, requiring them how to rely on his previous statements.

Whichever way federal Judge Jesse Furman rules, the outcome, led by Nyc Attorney General Barbara Underwood, will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme court.

Underwood told reporters at Monday’s trial in federal court in New York City that “it could be even better to have” Ross’ testimony, but “there’s something for being said for moving the trial forward.”