HOUSTON — A federal judge in New York has blocked the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census.
The U.S. Commerce Secretary says that citizenship question will help the Justice Department better enforce part of the Voting Rights Act. However, many states and cities, including Houston, are worried the question, which hasn’t been included since 1950, might scare immigrant households from taking part.
It’s an issue experts say is critically important, especially in Texas. According to a 2017 fact sheet by the American Immigration Council, the state has nearly 5 million immigrants, nearly two-third of whom are non-citizens.
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So, what exactly is at stake? KHOU spoke with Steve Murdock, a Rice sociology professor and former Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census under President George W. Bush, as well as Dr. Laura Murillo, President/CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
According to Murdock and Dr. Murillo, here are the Census’ three biggest impacts:
First, funding: more than $800 billion in federal tax dollars for schools, roads, law enforcement, libraries, health care, low-income housing, and countless other community services are divvied up based on that Census count.
Dr. Murillo says an inaccurate count could cost Houston $6 billion dollars over the next decade.
Second, staffing and planning: Murdoch uses schools as an example, saying a superintendent may plan to have a certain number of students at a school, but because of an undercount, the real number could be much higher. That could mean not enough teachers and more expenses.
For law enforcement, Murdock says that could mean not enough officers to patrol a given area.
Third, representation: that Census count dictates how many representatives Texans can elect to Congress, and it also impacts how the state and local governments draw political boundaries. All those changes impact the ballots of Houston-area voters.
Dr. Murillo says there are also a lot of “mixed households”: U.S. citizens who live with people that aren’t citizens, so they may not participate in the Census either. The same 2017 AIC report states “more than 1 million U.S. citizens in Texas live with at least one family member who is undocumented.”
Even without a citizenship question, Dr. Murillo says Hurricane Harvey displacement and fewer workers going door-to-door, along with a climate of fear, could make the 2020 count the toughest one yet.
The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will continue an outreach effort it began with the City of Houston and Harris County in 2018 to raise participation in the 2020 Census.
Tuesday’s ruling won’t be the last of the legal challenges on this issue. California filed another suit that’s still ongoing, and the Supreme Court should take up the issue in February.