A tool to hurt us


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Two NYC officials say the possibility of a Census citizenship question has already caused damage


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  • Julie Menin, Director of the Census for New York City, at the Supreme Court last week. Photo: Courtesy of Office of the Census for New York City




Last week, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in United States Department of Commerce v. New York, better known as the “Census citizenship case.”

The City of New York, along with the New York State Attorney General and several other states and cities, is a plaintiff to the case — and for good reason. The central issue in this case could rob New York’s already-undercounted communities of color and immigrant communities of fair representation, and could result in New York losing its share of billions in federal funding for vital programs and services, including public housing, children’s nutrition and special education needs.

The case centers around the Trump Administration’s addition of a question to the 2020 Census (not asked since 1950): are you a United States citizen? Its inclusion is yet another example of the Trump Administration’s war on immigrant communities. Time and time again, the Administration has tried to undermine communities of color, silence immigrant communities and remake the United States into a land of exclusion instead of inclusion.

By adding this question, the Trump Administration is seeking to discourage immigrants from participating in the Census, forcing an undercount in many of our most diverse cities and states. When a city or state is undercounted, the people in those regions lose fair representation in Congress and miss out on their fair share of federal dollars.

It is estimated that New York State could lose up to two congressional seats as a result of an undercount. This outcome would likely occur in other states with large immigrant communities or communities of color, which disproportionately stand to lose their fair share of representation.

Simply put: the Trump Administration is trying to use the federal government’s constitutional obligation to count us as a tool to hurt us.

In addition to representation, the amount of federal funding in question is also incredibly significant. Over $800 billion in federal funds are allocated by the federal government each year to cities and states for approximately 320 different programs that depend on the Census. Funding for public education, special needs, women in need, senior centers and infrastructure depend on the Census.

In 2016 alone, New York State received over $73 billion through 55 programs guided by 2010 Census data. Furthermore, City agencies and businesses rely on Census data to make vital decisions. For example, with the measles outbreak now occurring in the city, the NYC Department of Health relies on Census data to estimate the vaccine uptake and coverage in the affected ZIP codes.

While so much is at stake, it was emboldening in January, when U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Furman ruled that the Trump Administration’s addition of the citizenship question violated federal law. This case was appealed by the Trump Administration, and last week, the Justices of the Supreme Court heard New York’s arguments. We await their decision, but remain confident that the facts — and the law — are on our side.

We know that the mere possibility of a citizenship question has already caused damage among immigrant communities. We say to the immigrants in our city and to all communities who might question whether or not the Census is for them: the single best way to fight back and counter the fear the Trump Administration wants us to feel is to fill out that Census form.

Next year, for the first time ever, the form will be online, making it easier to take just the few minutes needed to fill it out. Those who might not have internet access will be able to answer the questions over the phone.

We have an opportunity here to say: we will not be disenfranchised, and we are entitled to our fair share — from the halls of Congress to the halls of our local schools.

We are New Yorkers. We will stand up and we will be counted.

Julie Menin is the Director of the Census for New York City and also serves as Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Strategic Advocacy. Bitta Mostofi is the Commissioner of the Mayors’ Office of Immigrant Affairs. An earlier version of this piece ran in the Daily News and El Diario.





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