This screen shot from the U.S. Census 2020 website shows the response rate to the census across San Francisco as of July 2020. (Courtesy https://2020census.gov/)

In Brown Type: 2020 census count must include undocumented immigrants

Reliable reporting from nonpartisan source is essential to democracy

Aside from the unconstitutionality of the president’s memo, issued on July 21, to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count, this latest salvo is another attempt to render the census count imprecise and inaccurate and make it a tool for partisan politics.

Census accuracy is critical. Besides the federal funding that is determined by the census count of each state, representation in Congress is decided based on census data.

The decennial census is a count of the number of persons residing in each state to determine apportionment of seats in Congress.

The July 21 memo asks “to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status under the Immigration and Nationality Act …”

The president’s policy memo requires the Secretary of Commerce, after the census is complete, “to somehow remove from the counts of every state a certain number of persons believed to be undocumented immigrants,” explained Arturo Vargas, CEO of National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, at an Ethnic Media Services briefing last week.

The memo targets states like California, Florida and Texas and makes no bones about it: “Current estimates suggest that one state is home to more than 2.2 million illegal aliens, constituting more than 6 percent of the state’s entire population.”

The upshot of such an action could result in California and Texas losing three seats in Congress, and Florida not gaining what they were projected to gain despite the rise in that state’s census count, said John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice: “Then it would be a question of a one-seat or two-seat gain — or so-called gains,” for states that remain status quo, or don’t have any big changes to their census count, explained Yang.

Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, has been working on estimating the number of undocumented immigrants in America for decades. This estimation is performed by first measuring the total number of immigrants (legal and unauthorized) living in the U.S. and then subtracting the lawful immigrants from that total.

An estimation using process of elimination would be constitutionally suspect, said Yang, “because the Constitution requires actual enumeration in these decennial census, which leads to the apportionment.”

In Vargas’ opinion, eliminating the number of undocumented from a legitimate census count “amounts to cooking the books after the fact.” It would result in a data set that would be unreliable, with no way to corroborate for accuracy.

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution makes clear that apportionment is based on all persons in the United States. And so, according to Yang, this implicit suggestion “that undocumented immigrants are not people, are not persons, flies in the face of logic, flies in the face of Supreme Court precedent and flies in the face of legislative history and policy of the United States for several hundred years.”

San Francisco has joined a coalition of states, cities and counties across the country in filing a lawsuit against the president in this latest attempt to exclude millions of people from the apportionment count.

“It’s clear that the president is desperate to try anything he can to exclude people from being lawfully counted in the census. We stand with the Constitution, and we will continue to defend the law,” said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera in a statement after the lawsuit.

About a year earlier, the president had issued an executive order to include a question in the census questionnaire about the citizenship of residents, with the purported intent to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Following lawsuits, the Supreme Court issued a rebuke to the president and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, calling the motivation “contrived.” This new memo is now the administration’s latest strategy to depress and suppress the census counts in diverse states like California.

More than ever, it’s become important to disregard these attempts to distract from getting an accurate count of residents in our country, states, counties and cities.

It has become imperative for every eligible person in San Francisco to fill out the census. There’s still time to do so. The self-response deadline is Oct. 31, and the non-response follow-up will begin on Aug. 11 and continue till Oct. 31.

California has inched above the nation’s self-response rate. Almost 64 percent of the state has responded to the census questionnaire as compared to 62.6 percent of the nation. San Francisco’s self-response, as of this week, was 60.6 percent. This also means that 39.4 percent of The City’s eligible residents have yet to fill out the census.

Some of The City’s least responsive census tracts include areas that have a high proportion of immigrants, like Chinatown and its surrounding areas, which have self-response rates close to or under 50 percent. And in the census tract that comprises Dogpatch and Potrero Hill, the self-response rate hovers at 24.9 percent.

We can do better.

We have a short window of 90 days when we can try to convince our fellow residents to respond to the census. In the next few weeks, let’s gently nudge our friends, neighbors and colleagues. Ask if they’ve filled out the census questionnaire. Mention that it will take just a few minutes of their time, if they haven’t, and assure them that none of the nine questions asks for citizenship details.

The census is a nonpartisan tool of democracy. By making sure we are counted — each one of us — we ensure that it remains so.

Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at jaya.padmanabhan@gmail.com. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.

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