Recently, I learned that the Department of Justice (DOJ), led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had requested that the Census Bureau add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. For some people, that may sound like an innocuous request. But for me and my family, it could be the difference between whether or not we’re counted, and whether our community gets the resources it needs.
The census is the country’s way of knowing how many people live in each city, county and state. It’s a critical source of information that our government at all levels — as well as nonprofit groups and businesses — use to decide how to allocate its resources and meet communities’ needs. To be full, fair and accurate, the census must count everyone, regardless of immigration status. And people have to trust that the information will be kept confidential and never used against them.
Adding a citizenship question — particularly at a time when immigrant families like mine know we’re under attack — will erode that trust. Some of my relatives are undocumented, some have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relatives like me, and others are US citizens. The attempt by the DOJ to ask a citizenship question would make anyone in families like mine concerned about how this information will be used.
The result: Fewer people will answer the survey. And these lower participation rates will undermine the entire census.
Jeff Sessions knows this. Make no mistake: This new proposed question is another tool to attack us. In fact, a recent ProPublica investigation revealed that the real person behind this effort to add the citizenship question is a partisan operative known to push redistricting efforts to try to win elections for Republicans. District lines, the drawing of which is heavily influenced by census data, determine voters and the political party the district favors.
I’m a Dreamer. On September 5 of last year, I listened as Sessions repeatedly called me an “alien” as he announced the end of DACA. He has shown for years in the Senate, and now at the DOJ, that he hates immigrants and people of color. Apparently, it was not enough to end DACA, threaten sanctuary cities and attack our voting rights. Now he wants to erase us from our nation’s population records.
But we will not allow Sessions to use the census as a tool to target our communities. That’s why on February 19, some 27 community, labor and legal advocacy organizations across New York demanded in a joint letter that Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, reject the proposed citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The week of March 1, 19 community organizations in the suburban region of Long Island did the same. Hundreds more around the country have made a similar call.
Community organizations have been meeting and discussing this crucial issue with elected officials, as well. Latino members of Congress like Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Rep. Luis Gutierrez have loudly rejected the proposed question, with more than 100 of their peers in the House. And community organizations are preparing for future actions in the Beltway and in districts across the country, to escalate pressure for a full, fair count. This will include petitioning, public protest and ongoing efforts to educate the public about the threats to the census.
Sessions and his allies in the Trump administration have one thing wrong. When he made the announcement last September about DACA, and when the DOJ made this latest proposal, he expected immigrants like me to go back into the shadows, to cower in fear.
But he was mistaken. His attacks made me, like Dreamers around the country, more determined than ever to keep on fighting for myself and for my family.
Now, New Yorkers and many around the nation are saying: We refuse to accept changes to the census that will spark fear over whether to participate in a process that has long been at the heart of our democracy.
Our coalition is broad because we know that this threat would not only affect immigrant families like mine, but all our families and communities. The census affects how $600 billion in state and local resources are spent on our communities. Resources for schools, hospitals, housing are all on the line.
It is our right and our duty to make sure that every resident of this country is counted, regardless of immigration status.
Secretary Ross, I’m asking you to reject the DOJ proposal. My family needs to be counted, too.