Commentary

By Dianne Feinstein

When President Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015, he made clear his disdain for Latinos. He said immigrants from Mexico were rapists and criminals. He later called immigrants killers. He even criticized his Republican opponents for being able to speak Spanish.

So it’s no surprise that his administration now wants to include a question on the 2020 Census that asks about citizenship status. His goal is to divide, not unite, and this is just his latest attempt to tear apart our communities.

An accurate census of all people, both citizens and non-citizens, is critical to our democracy. It determines how legislative districts are drawn, government programs are administered and federal funds are distributed.

Asking about immigration status could severely limit participation in Latino communities, leading to a drastic undercount. Immigrants, especially those in mixed-status households, would be less likely to respond out of fear that any information gathered would be used by immigration officials to target them or their families.

This would be a serious problem for areas like Los Angeles, where immigrants make up nearly 40 percent of the city’s population. An inaccurate count would not only jeopardize federal funding for the city, it would also reduce the approximately $105 billion the state receives each year from the federal government.

The Justice Department claims the citizenship question is essential to enforce the Voting Rights Act. But that information is already collected through the American Community Survey, a longer survey sent to more than 3.5 million households each year.

Further, the administration’s considerable opposition to voting rights and the fact that no leading civil rights groups have asked to include this question casts serious doubt on the veracity of the department’s claims.

If the Justice Department is successful, it would have sweeping repercussions across our entire country. The damage would be particularly hard felt in states like California with large minority and immigrant populations.

An inaccurate count would deprive our communities of federal funds to which they’re rightly entitled, affecting everything from local school boards and non-profits to Fortune 500 companies and small businesses.

Even worse, it could cause us to wrongly lose Congressional seats, eroding the core of our representative democracy.

Commerce Secretary Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, has said that he’s in favor of an “efficient 2020 Census that provides a full, fair, and accurate count of everyone living in this country.” That will only happen if he rejects the Justice Department’s request.