We wish every resident of this country were here legally. We wish those residents who are not citizens had a clear and reasonable path to citizenship. But that is not the case. And until Congress does its national duty and passes serious and comprehensive immigration reform, we are sympathetic to the arguments of those who oppose the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, something that hasn’t been done since 1950.
Those opposing the move argue that it is reasonable to assume that in the absence of a fully developed immigration policy, the citizenship question will discourage not only illegal residents, but also non-citizens here legally, from participating. And that makes sense, since these are unquestionably difficult and disquieting times for immigrants and their families, and it is likely that many of them would rather not divulge their status on a government form. The resulting miscount from a lack of immigrant participation would then deprive communities with sizable immigrant populations of crucial federal support, because the census directly impacts apportionment in Congress — which depends on total population, not citizen population — and the dispensing of federal funds.
To be sure, there are valid reasons for knowing the percentage of U.S. citizens in a given area, or even broader U.S. citizen statistics on a regional or national level. But given the disarray in our national immigration policy, this just doesn’t seem like the right time to include the question in the census.
We agree with Tony Suarez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who said: “Congress’ embarrassing 30-year streak of futility on the issue of immigration reform has led us to the point where a question regarding citizenship strikes instant fear in immigrant communities and visions of mass deportations. … Congress must [first] fix our broken immigration system, which in turn will bring people out of the shadows, allow a proper census and more importantly allow families to live the American dream without fear.”
Many Jewish groups agree. In February, 10 national organizations wrote against the proposed citizenship question: “From the ban on entry of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries to the termination of DACA, America’s immigrant communities feel increasingly vulnerable. A new Census question about citizenship will raise fears about such information now or in the future being used against them or their loved one.”
Those concerns are remarkably prescient. Just last week, Armando Rojas, the longtime custodian of Bet Torah in Westchester County, N.Y., found himself suddenly deported to Mexico despite having a wife and children, gainful employment and his community’s support. Right before Passover began, Rabbi Aaron Brusso informed his congregation, which had raised funds for Rojas’ legal representation, that the diligent efforts of their attorney were not fast enough for a system now intent on deporting first and asking questions later.