A Census Citizenship Question Wouldn't Just Impact Blue States

Blue states are suing to block the question, but they aren't the only areas particularly vulnerable to losing money and political power if the Trump administration's plan lowers immigrants' participation.
by | March 28, 2018
The last Census undercounted Hispanics by nearly 2 percent, while whites were overcounted. (Shutterstock)

The U.S. Department of Commerce's decision this week to add a citizenship status question to the 2020 Census has prompted widespread concern from state and local officials.

At a time of heightened fears in immigrant communities, lawmakers and civil rights groups worry that inclusion of the question will discourage participation, altering the accuracy of Census counts. States and municipalities have a lot to lose if immigrants are undercounted. The decennial Census dictates political representation at all levels of government and guides the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding each year.

The announcement set off a legal battle, with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra immediately filing a lawsuit and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman saying he would lead multistate litigation. Prince George’s County, Md., similarly joined the NAACP in filing a lawsuit Wednesday.

More than 160 mayors issued a letter last month urging for the rejection of the question, which hasn’t been included on all Census forms since 1950. On Tuesday, several of them denounced the decision.

“By asking the citizenship question, the federal government is making the count more difficult and inhibiting the necessary information to ensure that cities have adequate resources,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement.

It’s hard to say just how much the question could influence Census response rates. “While there is widespread belief among many parties that adding a citizenship question could reduce response rates, the Census Bureau’s analysis did not provide definitive, empirical support for that belief,” wrote Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a memo posted Monday night.

But in a conference call with reporters, Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, countered that the secretary needed to show the question wouldn't hinder participation and it hadn't been adequately tested. Earlier focus groups conducted by the bureau, Gupta said, had identified fears in immigrant communities. “Ross is simply trying to shrink wrap a respectable label on a bottle that is filled with Trump’s poisonous and partisan agenda,” Gupta said.

Some of the biggest line items in the federal budget that rely, at least in part, on Census data include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (otherwise known as food stamps), and highway planning and construction grants.

According to a recent report by the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, about 300 federal programs allocate over $800 billion a year based on Census counts. Researchers further estimated the effects of an undercount on five programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services that accounted for nearly half of all federal grants to states. They found that 37 states lost a median of $1,091 in fiscal 2015 for each person missed in the 2010 Census.

Some areas of the country are particularly vulnerable to undercounting if fears of lower immigrant participation come to fruition. According to the Pew Research Center, undocumented immigrants accounted for more than 10 percent of the population in the border regions of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas, and Yuma, Ariz. -- the highest estimated concentrations nationally as of 2014. By contrast, undocumented immigrants made up less than 1 percent of the population in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and several other predominantly Midwestern regions.

 

 

The last Census undercounted Hispanics by nearly 2 percent, while whites were overcounted. (The Constitution mandates a count of all persons, regardless of legal status.)

While much of the concern has focused on the undocumented, some officials and demographers also contend that naturalized citizens may be swayed from participating as well. Research suggests Americans who hold cynical views of government have also historically responded at much lower rates.

“This is going to cause chaos that is unpredictable,” says Justin Levitt, a Loyola Marymount University law professor. “For anyone who does not feel comfortable with the federal government, it exacerbates a risk of an undercount.”

Data published in the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey provide a broader estimate of all non-U.S. citizens living in the country, including those with legal immigration status. Non-U.S. citizens account for more than one-fifth of the population in 22 cities with at least 100,000 residents. Most of these jurisdictions are found in California, Florida and Texas but also in places like Bellevue, Wash., and Providence, R.I. This suggests that undercounts could yield drastic effects if some non-citizens opt not to participate.

President Trump’s campaign committee sent out a fundraising email last week highlighting his push to include the question on the survey. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who led the administration’s disbanded voter fraud commission, told the conservative website Breitbart News that the move was one of the president’s most important accomplishments thus far.

Democrats sharply criticized the decision, calling it politically motivated. But Democratic-leaning areas wouldn't be the only ones to take a political hit. Levitt notes that many urban areas with fast-growing minority populations are in Texas and other red states.

What's more, while it’s assumed that cities would cede power to rural areas if immigrants return fewer forms, some farming communities home to large numbers of migrant workers could also be affected. “People assume the effects will be on the cities, and they may well be right, but there will be a substantial impact on the rural communities as well," says Levitt.

Congress is not required to sign off on the Census Bureau’s proposed list of questions, although lawmakers could pass legislation barring the question from the survey. Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York vowed to introduce a bill blocking its inclusion, while another proposal calls for the exclusion of any question that hasn’t been tested.

Wendy Manning, president of the Population Association of America, notes that how the question is presented on the survey could influence participation. Commerce Secretary Ross has directed that the citizenship question be placed last.

It’s also possible that respondents could simply mail back their forms with the question left blank and still be counted. Answering all questions is required by federal law, although non-respondents have rarely been prosecuted. For the first time, people will have the option to submit their responses online, although it’s unclear whether the system will allow for incomplete responses.

Either way, Manning says the publicity the citizenship question will receive could deter some from filling out the form in the first place. “It’s very late in the game to be adding questions,” she says. “It’s going to affect allocation of resources to communities that need them.”

 

Data: Non-U.S. Citizens in Cities

The Census Bureau publishes population estimates for non-U.S. citizens, which include both the undocumented and those with legal immigration status. Figures are shown for larger cities and towns with populations exceeding 100,000.

Jurisdiction Share of Population Non-U.S. citizens Margin of Error
Hialeah, Florida 35.7% 84,009 57
Miami, Florida 30.7% 132,776 98
Santa Ana, California 30.6% 102,015 82
Salinas, California 29.3% 45,607 68
Sunnyvale, California 28.7% 42,968 86
Elizabeth, New Jersey 28.3% 36,215 93
East Los Angeles, California 27.3% 33,845 2,279
Santa Maria, California 26.1% 27,021 46
Irving, Texas 26.0% 60,335 62
El Monte, California 25.8% 29,850 76
Santa Clara, California 23.0% 28,198 79
Oxnard, California 22.7% 46,541 82
Jersey City, New Jersey 22.7% 59,419 55
Bellevue, Washington 21.8% 29,836 63
Los Angeles, California 20.8% 816,023 150
Anaheim, California 20.7% 71,710 130
Houston, Texas 20.7% 463,009 222
Fremont, California 20.6% 46,880 52
Richmond, California 20.5% 22,255 66
Pomona, California 20.3% 30,827 65
Hayward, California 20.2% 31,263 73
Stamford, Connecticut 20.1% 25,650 58
Escondido, California 19.7% 29,475 82
Brownsville, Texas 19.6% 35,739 59
Glendale, California 19.2% 38,054 53
Laredo, Texas 18.7% 47,182 66
Bridgeport, Connecticut 18.4% 27,096 78
Dallas, Texas 18.4% 235,182 111
Daly City, California 18.1% 19,125 65
Pasadena, Texas 17.9% 27,420 163
El Cajon, California 17.9% 18,377 89
Paterson, New Jersey 17.8% 26,209 49
Providence, Rhode Island 17.5% 31,353 49
Irvine, California 17.5% 43,287 119
McAllen, Texas 17.5% 24,240 67
Garland, Texas 17.5% 41,054 342
Alexandria, Virginia 17.3% 26,201 N/A
San Jose, California 17.3% 174,510 164
Ontario, California 17.3% 29,272 68
San Mateo, California 17.3% 17,657 64
Cambridge, Massachusetts 17.2% 18,682 58
Newark, New Jersey 17.2% 48,087 81
New York, New York 17.0% 1,438,215 N/A
Sunrise Manor, Nevada 16.9% 32,520 3,095
Garden Grove, California 16.7% 29,234 97
Jurupa Valley, California 16.4% 16,559 51
Fullerton, California 16.4% 22,850 60
Inglewood, California 16.4% 18,182 120
Pompano Beach, Florida 16.3% 17,264 72
Elgin, Illinois 16.2% 18,182 660
Rialto, California 15.9% 16,292 128
Aurora, Illinois 15.8% 31,828 415
Paradise, Nevada 15.8% 36,361 3,240
Fontana, California 15.6% 31,968 98
Norwalk, California 15.5% 16,482 52
Chula Vista, California 15.2% 39,734 63
Downey, California 15.2% 17,212 48
Carrollton, Texas 15.2% 19,619 88
West Valley City, Utah 15.1% 20,309 170
Kent, Washington 15.0% 18,801 70
Costa Mesa, California 15.0% 16,836 76
Pasadena, California 14.9% 20,946 90
San Bernardino, California 14.9% 31,893 170
Concord, California 14.8% 18,839 62
Oakland, California 14.8% 61,131 93
Boston, Massachusetts 14.5% 95,393 64
Lewisville, Texas 14.5% 14,813 358
West Palm Beach, Florida 14.2% 14,856 79
Miramar, Florida 14.1% 18,870 117
Hollywood, Florida 13.9% 20,610 66
Stockton, California 13.7% 41,210 187
Richardson, Texas 13.7% 14,794 61
Phoenix, Arizona 13.6% 211,036 129
Yonkers, New York 13.5% 26,994 67
Long Beach, California 13.5% 63,443 83
El Paso, Texas 13.5% 91,479 67
Kansas City, Kansas 13.5% 20,190 73
Spring Valley, Nevada 13.5% 25,702 2,601
Lehigh Acres, Florida 13.4% 15,060 2,543
San Francisco, California 13.4% 113,991 N/A
Grand Prairie, Texas 13.3% 24,682 72
Sandy Springs, Georgia 13.0% 13,334 77
Arlington, Virginia 13.0% 29,431 N/A
Plano, Texas 13.0% 36,300 182
Orange, California 12.9% 18,099 102
Hartford, Connecticut 12.9% 16,079 49
Hillsboro, Oregon 12.9% 12,976 66
Riverside, California 12.9% 41,134 85
Miami Gardens, Florida 12.9% 14,482 91
Salt Lake City, Utah 12.8% 24,518 60
Urban Honolulu, Hawaii 12.8% 44,612 80
Aurora, Colorado 12.7% 44,717 274
San Diego, California 12.7% 174,677 108
Palmdale, California 12.7% 19,905 63
Corona, California 12.6% 20,403 104
Arlington, Texas 12.6% 48,452 163
North Las Vegas, Nevada 12.5% 28,840 89
Moreno Valley, California 12.5% 25,252 98
Austin, Texas 12.5% 113,445 275
West Covina, California 12.3% 13,233 183
Lowell, Massachusetts 12.1% 13,334 61
Fresno, California 12.1% 62,081 136
Burbank, California 12.1% 12,631 43
Las Vegas, Nevada 12.1% 74,022 99
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 12.0% 20,996 91
Torrance, California 12.0% 17,656 36
New Haven, Connecticut 11.9% 15,546 60
Chicago, Illinois 11.9% 322,601 50
Berkeley, California 11.9% 14,088 103
Coral Springs, Florida 11.8% 15,026 51
Fort Worth, Texas 11.8% 95,993 103
Ann Arbor, Michigan 11.7% 13,802 52
Mesquite, Texas 11.5% 16,584 177
Worcester, Massachusetts 11.5% 21,098 46
Santa Rosa, California 11.4% 19,695 117
Bakersfield, California 11.0% 40,447 155
Glendale, Arizona 10.9% 26,258 88
Pembroke Pines, Florida 10.8% 17,866 91
Antioch, California 10.7% 11,651 120
Vallejo, California 10.6% 12,688 58
Charlotte, North Carolina 10.5% 85,306 110
Fairfield, California 10.5% 11,665 90
Denver, Colorado 10.5% 69,687 N/A
Gresham, Oregon 10.4% 11,468 67
The Woodlands, Texas 10.4% 11,278 2,965
Durham, North Carolina 10.3% 26,048 70
Sterling Heights, Michigan 10.3% 13,589 43
Sacramento, California 10.2% 49,554 109
Orlando, Florida 10.2% 26,733 95
Cary, North Carolina 10.1% 15,794 323
Everett, Washington 10.0% 10,667 116
Oceanside, California 9.7% 16,865 67
Enterprise, Nevada 9.7% 12,544 2,804
St. Paul, Minnesota 9.6% 28,387 54
Reno, Nevada 9.5% 22,420 71
College Station, Texas 9.4% 9,809 43
Modesto, California 9.2% 19,157 69
Santa Clarita, California 9.1% 16,428 96
Tempe, Arizona 9.1% 15,868 111
Denton, Texas 9.1% 11,648 138
Tucson, Arizona 9.0% 47,484 101
Seattle, Washington 8.9% 59,552 67
San Antonio, Texas 8.9% 127,648 162
Thousand Oaks, California 8.7% 11,179 79
High Point, North Carolina 8.7% 9,455 102
Minneapolis, Minnesota 8.7% 35,104 43
Victorville, California 8.6% 10,467 154
Frisco, Texas 8.6% 12,469 133
Metairie, Louisiana 8.5% 12,338 1,639
Nashville, Tennessee 8.5% 54,769 87
Raleigh, North Carolina 8.4% 37,103 264
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 8.4% 52,015 299
Columbia, Maryland 8.3% 8,559 1,278
Tampa, Florida 8.2% 29,815 115
Rancho Cucamonga, California 8.2% 14,248 76
Joliet, Illinois 8.2% 12,114 828
Washington, District of Columbia 8.2% 53,982 N/A
Waco, Texas 8.1% 10,526 63
Thornton, Colorado 8.0% 10,488 77
McKinney, Texas 8.0% 12,554 61
Allentown, Pennsylvania 8.0% 9,564 37
Amarillo, Texas 8.0% 15,784 37
Naperville, Illinois 8.0% 11,605 256
Mesa, Arizona 7.9% 37,356 163
Syracuse, New York 7.9% 11,456 76
Odessa, Texas 7.9% 9,040 476
Visalia, California 7.9% 10,168 81
Waterbury, Connecticut 7.8% 8,529 55
Tulsa, Oklahoma 7.8% 31,170 139
Round Rock, Texas 7.7% 8,666 394
Salem, Oregon 7.6% 12,315 149
San Buenaventura, California 7.5% 8,225 80
Port St. Lucie, Florida 7.5% 13,119 62
Simi Valley, California 7.5% 9,403 65
Des Moines, Iowa 7.4% 15,826 67
Provo, Utah 7.4% 8,602 39
Athens-Clarke County, Georgia 7.4% 8,912 179
Vancouver, Washington 7.4% 12,501 88
Tyler, Texas 7.3% 7,482 104
Portland, Oregon 7.3% 45,314 516
Chandler, Arizona 7.3% 17,579 65
Omaha, Nebraska 7.2% 32,118 87
Midland, Texas 7.2% 9,234 29
Grand Rapids, Michigan 7.1% 13,830 115
Beaumont, Texas 7.1% 8,336 60
Madison, Wisconsin 7.0% 17,230 98
Columbus, Ohio 7.0% 58,556 258
Rochester, Minnesota 7.0% 7,771 53
Greensboro, North Carolina 7.0% 19,684 124
Manchester, New Hampshire 6.8% 7,491 45
Clearwater, Florida 6.8% 7,549 100
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 6.7% 16,063 712
Gainesville, Florida 6.7% 8,650 66
Cape Coral, Florida 6.7% 11,382 46
Rockford, Illinois 6.7% 9,998 271
Boulder, Colorado 6.7% 7,041 89
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 6.6% 103,071 N/A
Las Cruces, New Mexico 6.6% 6,661 120
Olathe, Kansas 6.5% 8,617 62
Huntington Beach, California 6.5% 12,875 129
Lexington, Kentucky 6.5% 20,100 N/A
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 6.4% 38,438 67
Albuquerque, New Mexico 6.4% 35,528 99
Indianapolis (balance), Indiana 6.4% 53,772 462
Temecula, California 6.3% 6,856 68
Elk Grove, California 6.2% 10,174 82
Tacoma, Washington 6.2% 12,702 92
Lancaster, California 6.1% 9,686 50
Pearland, Texas 6.1% 6,445 468
West Jordan, Utah 6.1% 6,727 86
Wichita, Kansas 5.9% 22,955 82
South Bend, Indiana 5.9% 5,945 621
Green Bay, Wisconsin 5.9% 6,141 40
Overland Park, Kansas 5.7% 10,489 81
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 5.6% 16,983 54
Brandon, Florida 5.6% 6,103 1,924
Murrieta, California 5.5% 5,992 107
North Charleston, South Carolina 5.4% 5,779 56
Buffalo, New York 5.4% 14,007 55
Columbia, Missouri 5.4% 6,322 47
Lakewood, Colorado 5.3% 7,979 75
Westminster, Colorado 5.3% 5,882 74
Wichita Falls, Texas 5.2% 5,462 61
Lakeland, Florida 5.2% 5,329 69
Carlsbad, California 5.1% 5,767 76
Eugene, Oregon 5.1% 8,251 156
Warren, Michigan 5.1% 6,886 82
Corpus Christi, Texas 5.1% 16,307 56
Little Rock, Arkansas 5.0% 9,904 58
Rochester, New York 5.0% 10,506 47
Lansing, Michigan 4.9% 5,664 87
Springfield, Massachusetts 4.8% 7,464 42
Roseville, California 4.8% 6,192 66
Scottsdale, Arizona 4.8% 11,306 69
Baltimore, Maryland 4.8% 29,899 N/A
Fargo, North Dakota 4.8% 5,512 40
Peoria, Illinois 4.7% 5,411 217
Tallahassee, Florida 4.7% 8,772 79
Fort Wayne, Indiana 4.6% 12,122 378
Lincoln, Nebraska 4.6% 12,616 43
Jacksonville, Florida 4.6% 39,107 37
Atlanta, Georgia 4.6% 20,798 78
Norman, Oklahoma 4.5% 5,352 121
Henderson, Nevada 4.4% 12,329 103
Sioux Falls, South Dakota 4.4% 7,432 45
Erie, Pennsylvania 4.4% 4,364 48
Memphis, Tennessee 4.4% 28,536 119
Richmond, Virginia 4.3% 9,390 N/A
Boise City, Idaho 4.3% 9,357 64
Huntsville, Alabama 4.2% 7,979 674
Kansas City, Missouri 4.2% 19,686 173
Clovis, California 4.1% 4,235 76
Anchorage municipality, Alaska 4.1% 12,409 N/A
Louisville, Kentucky 4.1% 25,275 100
St. Petersburg, Florida 4.1% 10,458 51
Murfreesboro, Tennessee 4.1% 5,000 87
Colorado Springs, Colorado 4.1% 18,249 181
Knoxville, Tennessee 3.9% 7,230 82
Wilmington, North Carolina 3.8% 4,376 69
Centennial, Colorado 3.8% 4,133 98
Columbia, South Carolina 3.8% 5,069 126
Killeen, Texas 3.8% 5,289 47
Akron, Ohio 3.8% 7,482 98
Highlands Ranch, Colorado 3.7% 3,997 1,195
Topeka, Kansas 3.7% 4,775 49
Peoria, Arizona 3.7% 5,846 79
Fort Collins, Colorado 3.7% 5,780 68
St. Louis, Missouri 3.7% 11,602 N/A
Abilene, Texas 3.7% 4,487 412
Newport News, Virginia 3.6% 6,585 N/A
Palm Bay, Florida 3.6% 3,813 86
Chattanooga, Tennessee 3.5% 6,228 77
Spokane, Washington 3.5% 7,460 103
Norfolk, Virginia 3.5% 8,619 N/A
Detroit, Michigan 3.5% 23,944 55
Virginia Beach, Virginia 3.5% 15,614 N/A
Lubbock, Texas 3.4% 8,394 53
Savannah, Georgia 3.4% 4,925 60
Gilbert, Arizona 3.4% 7,637 67
New Orleans, Louisiana 3.3% 12,744 N/A
Lafayette, Louisiana 3.3% 4,131 86
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma 3.3% 3,421 75
Cincinnati, Ohio 3.2% 9,679 191
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 3.2% 7,259 62
Montgomery, Alabama 3.2% 6,365 86
Surprise, Arizona 3.1% 3,935 60
Columbus, Georgia 2.8% 5,626 N/A
Cleveland, Ohio 2.8% 10,724 78
Fayetteville, North Carolina 2.8% 5,610 65
Pueblo, Colorado 2.7% 2,913 104
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 2.6% 3,317 71
Clarksville, Tennessee 2.5% 3,720 40
Dayton, Ohio 2.5% 3,563 51
Birmingham, Alabama 2.5% 5,326 528
Springfield, Missouri 2.3% 3,754 67
Arvada, Colorado 2.3% 2,565 111
Independence, Missouri 2.2% 2,635 73
Spring Hill, Florida 2.2% 2,247 1,362
Springfield, Illinois 2.1% 2,450 379
Charleston, South Carolina 2.1% 2,684 95
Macon-Bibb County, Georgia 2.1% 3,180 120
Davenport, Iowa 2.0% 2,037 40
Chesapeake, Virginia 2.0% 4,606 N/A
Mobile, Alabama 1.8% 3,556 69
Hampton, Virginia 1.8% 2,495 N/A
Toledo, Ohio 1.8% 5,106 90
Augusta-Richmond County, Georgia 1.8% 3,508 25
Evansville, Indiana 1.5% 1,772 63
Shreveport, Louisiana 1.5% 2,886 97
Jackson, Mississippi 1.1% 1,823 174
Billings, Montana 0.9% 949 78
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, 2012-2016 American Community Survey Estimates