Census Citizenship Question Could Hurt Citizens, Too | WBEZ
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Census Citizenship Question Could Hurt Citizens, Noncitizens Alike

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in June to allow a question about citizenship on the 2020 census, experts say it will likely discourage some immigrants from participating and would result in an undercount of the nation’s population.

The impact could be far more severe in areas where immigrants make up a significant portion of the population, like Cook County, according to one local demographer’s analysis. All immigrant groups and their loved ones — including citizens, permanent residents, and the undocumented — are at risk of being missed, he said.

“The undercount in immigrant communities is about much, much more than the undocumented,” said demographer Rob Paral. “We have communities in Chicago that are maybe 30% immigrant, but 40 or more percent of households have at least one immigrant in it.”

He presented his findings to a group of Cook County government officials and community leaders Monday. Citing Census Bureau data from the American Community Survey spanning 2013-2015, Paral said that, overall, the county’s population of foreign-born residents was about 21%, but the percentage of households with at least one immigrant living in them was higher, at 29%.

“Just having one immigrant in a household affects the household’s response rate to the census,” Paral said. He selected 10 households from a collection of Northwest Side communities in Chicago and demonstrated that, in a random sampling, there were four families with at least one foreign-born resident. For example, he posited that if two noncitizen parents live with their three U.S.-born children, and they don’t participate in the census, the children — who are citizens — would get missed.

However, there are many community areas in Chicago where households with at least one immigrant make up a higher percentage than the countywide figure. In a group of communities stretching from Chinatown to Midway Airport, for example, 57% of households have at least one foreign-born member living in the home, according to Paral’s analysis. That area includes the Archer Heights, Armour Square, Bridgeport, Brighton Park, McKinley Park and New City communities.

There were several other parts of the county where more than 40% of households included at least one immigrant. They included communities on Chicago’s Northwest Side, parts of far northwest suburban Cook County, and several inner-ring suburbs just north, northwest and west of the city.

“The potential impact that that can have on how families are counted is really concerning,” said Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, who leads the gathering of census stakeholders. “I learned of it today, and I think it is alarming. And it’s something that we need to get the word out about.”

Anaya said the Cook County Board plans to approve the members of its complete count commission later this month. That group, she said, will collaborate with other commissions like it throughout the area and Illinois to ensure the state’s hard-to-count populations are not missed. Outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month appointed his own committee of leaders to work on census outreach.

Illinois lawmakers are debating how to secure additional funds for census outreach other than the $1.5 million they appropriated in May 2018. Experts agree that a lot more will be needed. California has approved $100 million to prepare residents for the census, while New York has set aside $40 million.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the citizenship question last month. Observers say the Court appears poised to side with the Trump administration.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter at @estheryjkang.

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