Long Island Advocates Confront Potential Census Citizenship Question

(Photo/U.S. Census Bureau/Public Information Office)

Immigrant rights advocates across Long Island are firing back against a Census question on citizenship that could compromise the survey.

As previously reported by Long Island Wins, the request to add the question was made in a December 12 letter, obtained by ProPublica, from DOJ General Counsel Arthur Gary to head of the Census Bureau, acting director Ron Jarmin.

The census has not included questions about immigration since 1950, when the question was written as “If foreign born, is the person naturalized?”

A unified front of 19 local organizations urged Wilbur Ross, secretary of the Department of Commerce, which includes the Census Bureau, to shut down the citizenship question, Newsday reported.

“Adding a citizenship question would undoubtedly reduce response rates in diverse communities across Long Island, New York and the country, as it will increase fears about whether or not the information will be kept confidential and how it will be used,” the letter stated.

Such questions are typically field tested for years before being put on a questionnaire of such immense importance. To hastily add such a volatile question pulls at politically inflammatory strings, while also potentially further diminishing immigrants’ contribution and participation in civic affairs. In a climate where the wrong move could prompt a one-way deportation ticket, immigrants have every right to fear revealing their status in the eyes of the federal government.

“Since 1965, every Census, with the exception of the one administered in 2010, has contained a citizenship question that provided data necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters against racial discrimination,” said a statement from Devin O’Malley, a department spokesman, Newsday reported.

However, it should be stressed that after 1950, the citizenship question was relegated to the Census’s long-form component, which was only sent to about 1 in 6 households. In 2010, the long-form component was replaced with the annual American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS already includes a citizenship question, which is more than enough to actually gauge the needed data.

To include the citizenship question in the Census is politically motivated and will only serve to further ostracize our immigrant neighbors in a time when they are already being pushed to the fringes. Instead of seeking to further entrap them with red tape, we should instead be seeking to reassure them and encourage them to partake in our democracy and contribute to their fullest extent as Americans.