Fabiola Santiago

Is Trump using citizenship question on Census to undermine minorities’ count? You bet

New American citizens watch a congratulatory video from President Donald Trump at a naturalization ceremony on Feb. 2, 2018, in New York City.
New American citizens watch a congratulatory video from President Donald Trump at a naturalization ceremony on Feb. 2, 2018, in New York City. Getty Images

The U.S. Census matters to every American, regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status or party affiliation.

If you don’t answer it, you’re putting in jeopardy big-dollar projects like Metrorail expansion in Miami-Dade, or needed road upgrades all over Florida. The statistics drawn from the 2020 Census will be used to determine the level of federal funding for cities, states and counties. It’s competitive. Funding for projects like roads, bridges, and public transportation and housing depends on the impact of growth. Heathcare dollars are affected, too.

If you don’t answer the Census, your decision also affects what party dominates state politics for another decade. The count helps determine how federal and state election districts — where political battles are waged — are drawn. Who governs us, in turn, affects every level of public service and quality of life.

When a party uses the Census as a political weapon to push its agenda it undermines all of us.

And that’s exactly what President Donald Trump is doing by adding a citizenship status question to the 2020 Census.

There’s little this president won’t do to undercut the growth and vitality of minority communities.

There’s the vilification and assault on legal family immigration from which his own wife, Melania, and son Barron have benefited. There’s the rewriting of immigration law to expand what constitutes a “public charge” to deny public services to immigrant families, including green-card holders and U.S. citizens. There’s the terrorizing of minority enclaves, businesses, and transportation hubs with ICE and Border Patrol raids and searches.

No detail escapes Trump’s administration in the attempt at social engineering to return to a demographically dominant white conservative America. The proposal to add the citizenship question to the Census is another strategy to weaken minority communities and to play political games by hurting Democratic-leaning states, cities, and counties.

The intimidating citizenship question will surely put off people already uneasy about answering the Census and will lead to further undercounting of minority populations, experts say. Citizenship hasn’t been a question on a decennial Census since 1950.

“Any question, including one regarding citizenship, that could in any way discourage an accurate count, must be omitted,” retiring congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said in a statement. “The Census is not a means to do an immigration head count. It is a means to help all of our constituents with their needs regardless of their immigration status.”

This will mean less minority representation in government and fewer federal resources parceled out to those states and communities with Hispanic, black, and Middle Eastern populations — exactly what Trump is seeking.

Every single group that feels singled out and under attack by Trump and his supporters will shy away from divulging to the government all the personal information amassed in the long-form decennial survey.

Some 12 states are considering a lawsuit to block the administration, arguing that the change would cause undercounting and violate the Constitution, which clearly states that the purpose of the Census is to get an accurate count of everyone who lives in this country, regardless of status. The multi-state lawsuit in the works is led by New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. California has already filed its own lawsuit.

But the Republican-dominated state leadership in Florida, one of the highest-growth states in the nation and Trump’s second home, is ignoring the politically charged topic.

Florida isn’t on the list of states contemplating a lawsuit — but it should be. The Hurricane Maria impact alone merits their lobbying Trump to stop the blatantly harmful question. It will lead to undercounting of thousands of Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens and other Caribbean islanders who’ve moved here recently.

But don’t count on the Republicans who helped put Trump in office to lift a finger. They benefit from the undercount. Republicans want to keep their political dominance and see Democratic-leaning minorities as a threat, despite plenty of evidence that Hispanics in Florida can swing both ways or remain independent voters. It’ll take a Democratic sweep in the 2018 elections to change the anti-immigrant mindset pervasive in policy-making.

The purpose of the U.S. Census isn’t to help authorities go out hunting for undocumented immigrants nor to discriminate when doling out tax-dollars based on whether you’re a resident or a citizen.

But people are wise to be distrustful of this administration. Most of Trump’s policy-making is designed to be used as a tool to ideologically and racially shape the nation.

The only way to fight back effectively is to vote in November — and to answer the Census, citizenship question be damned.