Citizenship question in US census will have negative impact on migrant communities

Dear Editor,

Article 1, Section 2, the U.S. Constitution provides, “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States … according to their respective Numbers …The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

The 14th Amendment mandates apportionment of representatives “according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state,” as distinct from citizens only.

An accurate census is critical for all communities to be provided fair resources for services and representation in government, relative to the taxes, sacrifices and the blood, sweat and tears they shed daily for America’s prosperity. Caribbean nationals, West Indians, Guyanese, Trinidadians, Jamaicans, Asian Americans, Latinos and other immigrant communities have historically been undercounted, and this question will only lead to fear and even more drastically reduced response rates, especially in places like New York, DC and California.

The hospitals, schools, social services, senior centres, after-school programmes, pre-K services, day care, transportation and other services are among the worst in the nation, although immigrants most times have to do 2-3 jobs to make ends meet, pay their taxes willingly, and most refuse social and public assistance-all in pursuit of the sometimes elusive American dream.

Consequently, we vehemently oppose the addition of the citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire. The Trump administration’s announcement that it intends to include a citizenship question is myopic and ill-advised, and defeats the entire purpose for taking a decennial nationwide census in the first place. Indeed, it violates the Founding Fathers’ motives for gathering census data as part of the U.S. Constitution.

In the last census count, in 2010, despite our collective efforts to get everyone counted, the city’s response rate was only 62 percent. 50,000 residents were not counted, causing New York to lose two Congressional seats, and it may be worse this time around.

There are now 3.2 million foreign-born people in New York City, out of 8.6 million residents. Of those foreign-born, 46 percent are noncitizens, with at least 500,000 undocumented, all of whom use public resources and services.

Congress depends on those results not only to decide how to distribute federal resources, but how to determine the number of congressional districts in each state. It is the most important data and economic tool in America, and is used to plan the provision of health care, law enforcement, education, employment, transportation, social services, like where to build new schools, roads, health care facilities, child-care and senior centres.

At least 132 government programmes use information from the census to determine how to allocate in excess of US$675 billion, much of it for programmes that serve lower-income families, like Medicare, Head Start, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Pell grants for college and reduced-price school lunch programmes. Census data also apportions highway spending. According to a 2016 study by the Federal Communications Commission, about 12.6 million American households do not have access to broadband, and census data will determine which communities get priority.

In New York, for example, how the already measly US$7 billion from the federal government that funds all these aspects of life here, like whether resources are provided for repairs to the Belt, Grand Central and Van Wyck Expressways and nutritional programmes and centres for seniors, where new schools and hospitals are built, especially if Region 11 of Richmond Hill (Little Guyana) gets any, could be affected by one question on the 2020 census: Are you a United States citizen?

The federal data has collateral consequences. For example, the city’s education department uses Census data to redraw school zones, the health department uses it to understand illness rates, while businesses use federal information to determine whether to open in underserved neighbourhoods.

All of this can be solved by just withdrawing the intrusive question from the form, which is unconstitutional and fundamentally un-American. It is an ill-concealed attempt to stop funding for sanctuary cities like New York and California. Others oppose this measure as an attempt by Republicans to sabotage important census data to rig the political system in their favour.

Yours faithfully,

Albert Baldeo

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