Trump’s Bid to Insert Immigration Status Into Census Is an Attack on Cities

Changes to the Census questionnaire could dramatically undercount residents of urban areas. Map:  Pew Research Center
Changes to the Census questionnaire could dramatically undercount residents of urban areas. Map: Pew Research Center

Combining the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant fixation and its war on data, an upcoming executive order includes a provision requiring the Census to ask about immigration status, the Washington Post reports. Such a change would affect everyone who lives in cities, depressing the share of federal resources distributed to urban areas and sapping their electoral power as well.

The Census has made a practice of avoiding immigration status for good reason — the question scares people away from participating and would lead to undercounting. A late bid by GOP Senators David Vitter and Bob Bennett to add the question before the 2010 Census was rejected.

Audrey Singer, an immigration expert with the Urban Institute, sees the policy as a deliberate attack on areas with a large share of undocumented immigrants. “The intended effect is probably to intimidate people so that places with a high allocation of immigrants would receive a smaller count and that would affect the amount of funding those places receive,” she said. “They haven’t said what they want to do but that’s what the effect would be.”

The undercounting effect would not be limited to undocumented immigrants, says Singer. Immigrants with citizenship or resident status have also been hesitant to participate, something the Census Bureau works hard to combat.

“A lot of effort has been put in to make sure that people aren’t intimidated,” said Singer, “so that we could all make sure the data was as accurate as we want it to be.”

Undercounting immigrants would disproportionately affect cities. According to Pew Research, 94 percent of undocumented immigrants live in metropolitan areas (compared to 80 percent of U.S. born residents), and they are concentrated in large cities specifically, said Singer.

A variety of federal resources are distributed based on Census data. School funding and disaster relief, for example, are allocated according to population. Population factors into federal transportation grants too. The Federal Transit Administration administers 11 grant programs that use a population-weighted formula.

Undercounting would also shift the levers of political power in a way that disadvantages urban areas and states with high numbers of both documented and undocumented immigrants. Pew estimated that 2.7 million undocumented immigrants were living in California in 2008, the largest population in any state. More than half a million undocumented immigrants live in New York City.

If the Census starts asking about immigration status, everyone who lives in these places would be penalized in the process of drawing Congressional districts, further entrenching the structural political disadvantage of urban areas in the United States.

  • Ringo

    Angie, you should have taken a look at the last census before you wrote this. More than 50% of the real estate of that census was devoted to questions about race and ethnicity. There is nothing new here.

    The idea of gathering such stats is to propel the nation towards a post-racial outlook.

  • spr8364

    It seems to me that collecting data on a persons legal status is very different from collecting data on their ethnicity or race. The former can result in decreased Federal funding due to undercounting the actual population of a city while the later would have no effect on Federal funding since they would still be counted.

  • Roo_Beav

    Race/ethnicity is not the same as immigration status.

    Race got 1 question and Hispanic ethnicity got 1 question. There were 6 or 7 questions total for each person and 4 household-level questions.

    These 2 questions took up as much room as the other 4 or 5 questions because more answer categories are offered than a question about age or sex. Physical size of the question is irrelevant and misleading.

    https://www.census.gov/schools/pdf/2010form_info.pdf

  • Ringo

    More space on the forms was devoted to race/ethnicity than any other topic.

    And of course immigration and race are related. Hence all the news right now about Mexicans and Arabs

  • Ringo

    There is a clear relationship, hence the current focus on Mexican and Arab immigrants. There aren’t too many cases of Norwegian illegals.

  • Larry Littlefield

    FYI, we know what actually happened in 2000 and 2010. In the latter year, the illegals (and many of the legals) dodged the Census, leading to NYC being vastly undercounted compared with prior Census Bureau estimates.

    In 2000, many illegals reported. Since we have already had an amnesty, those in the know expected another one, and thus wanted proof that they were here, I heard it said at the time.

    Citizenship was one of the many questions in the long form of the Census, which the Republicans killed. It migrated to the American Community Survey, which the Republicans want to kill.

  • Robert

    That’s because Norway is a functioning and developed country. Mexico has large parts which one could argue are de facto run by drug cartels, and many Arab nations are in complete shambles. It consequently takes so long to get through the immigration checks if you are from these nations (multiple years) that the fact that many of them are here illegally is not at all surprising. The will find a way here- build a wall, they will tunnel; destroy the tunnels, and they will use the already established network of Narco Submarines to get to the US. There is no solution unless the underlying problem is fixed. The underlying problem, however, is not within our borders- it is within the dysfunctional nations which people flee.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Immigration and race are sometimes related and sometimes not (e.g. Canadians, Australians, Europeans, etc.).

  • Drew Levitt

    Most immigrants from Mexico and the Arab world would mark their race as “White” on the 2010 Census form.

    (The 2020 Census may include a “Middle Eastern/North African” race option: http://www.npr.org/2016/10/25/499343633/new-u-s-census-category-proposed-for-middle-eastern-people )

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Why Urban Residents Have a Bone to Pick With Vitter and Bennett

|
In a development that flew largely under the radar on Thursday, the Senate beat back an attempt by David Vitter (R-LA) and Bob Bennett (R-UT) to add a citizenship question to the 2010 U.S. Census, with the goal of no longer counting non-citizens as part of states’ official populations. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) (Photo: Chattahbox) […]

Cities See Population Gains — But What About Political Power?

|
The Census Bureau has just released new data showing a resurgence of the nation’s cities, with New York leading the way and Chicago reversing five years of population decline. These New Yorkers grew in number by an estimated 53,000 this year. Will they get more power in Congress? (Photo: lukegeorgeson via flickr) The urban growth […]

Is Jersey City a Suburb? Joel Kotkin Thinks So

|
Now that the 2010 Census results are filtering in, get ready for a variety of hasty, dubious interpretations. Sprawl apologist Joel Kotkin wasted no time deciding that the trends show not an urban renaissance, but continued preference for suburbia. According to an analysis Kotkin published in Forbes, suburbs accounted for an astounding 80 to 100 […]

Do Immigrant Neighborhoods Hold the Secret to Ride-Sharing?

|
When researchers look at the reasons behind the downward trend in driving rates in the U.S., they look at several demographics: young people who prefer urban living and are getting into biking, or baby boomers who have picked a more vibrant place to spend their retirement. Immigrants form another cohort that trends away from single-occupancy […]