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If census asks about citizenship, some already have an answer

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    A Census Bureau member holds a clipboard with Census forms in New York in 2010. The 2020 census will ask respondents if they are U.S. citizens, the Commerce Department announced this week. Critics fear that the highly charged request by the Trump administration will result in a substantial undercount of the population because immigrants might not take part.

LOS ANGELES >> During her entire working life in the United States, Carmen Queveda has hidden in plain sight. As a baby sitter, the undocumented immigrant has taken children under her care to play in the park. As a housekeeper, she starts each day taking a leisurely walk with her boss’ two dogs.

But Queveda, the mother of a 14-year-old American boy, is not about to step out of her house to participate in a census that inquires whether she herself is a citizen.

“I would never answer, because I don’t have papers,” the 46-year-old native of Guatemala said as she set out for a walk in the Hollywood Hills on Tuesday morning, a husky and German shepherd in tow. “Obviously, I am afraid. I have a son.”

The Commerce Department announced Monday that the 2020 census will include a question about citizenship, a measurement Trump administration officials say is important to help monitor voter demographics and protect minority voting rights.

Critics contend that asking the question will inhibit participation among immigrants who are nervous about government queries in a highly charged political environment. The result, these critics say, could be an undercount in areas of the country most heavily populated by new immigrants.

“The immigrant community, documented or not, will think twice before sharing information with the government,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., who deemed the citizenship question “data-based fearmongering.”

Advocates said that immigrants feared they could face deportation if their information was turned over to immigration authorities.

During World War I, the Census Bureau shared with the military the names of men who were of draft age. During World War II, the bureau provided the Secret Service with the names and addresses of some Japanese-Americans in the Washington, D.C., area as part of an investigation. And in 2000, the bureau acknowledged and apologized for sharing data on Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to help the military relocate them to internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

The law was changed in 1978 to prohibit the Census Bureau from sharing information with other government agencies for a period of 72 years after it collects personal data.

News of the citizenship question this week made headlines in Spanish-language papers and on television, which is how Cesar Morio, an undocumented construction worker from Mexico, heard about it.

“I know that no parent in my neighborhood is going to be opening the door for anyone doing a survey,” said Morio, 32, a stucco plasterer helping to erect a multimillion-dollar home in Los Angeles. He is single and does not have children.

Some advocates accused the administration of intentionally intimidating immigrant communities, and vowed to mount a campaign to encourage people to participate, rather than shun, census takers.

“Their goal is to try to make invisible our immigrant community in the census and to create a situation in which civic engagement action, to be counted, becomes risky,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

“But we are going to make sure that our community understands that they count for the United States and should participate. We are going to fight it,” she said.

In Texas, home to the second-largest population of unauthorized immigrants in the country, the citizenship question could have a chilling effect on participation and lead to economic impacts down the road, some officials said.

“We know this question is going to have a detrimental impact on our efforts and is going to make people wary of responding,” said Erika Reyna, who is coordinating census efforts in Hidalgo County in South Texas — in part because she and others determined that the Hispanic population had been undercounted in the state in 2000 and 2010.

“An undercount will mean fewer resources in an area that is high-need and growing,” Reyna said.

She said the county is in sore need of funding for education, transportation, health and other services.

The question about citizenship could have a disproportionate impact on the count in red states, such as Georgia, where the Latino population is relatively new and skews undocumented. In the 1990s, immigrants flocked to fast-growing Atlanta to build homes, work in restaurants and perform other, low-skilled work.

The state’s 1 million Latinos now account for about 9 percent of Georgia’s population. At least half of them are undocumented immigrants, many of them parents to children born in the United States who could be undercounted.

“We have many mixed-status families, and given this administration’s record on being anti-immigrant and Latino, the question will sow fear and confusion,” said Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

A coalition of state attorneys general advised the Commerce Department last month against including the citizenship question, saying that in addition to undermining participation among immigrants, it would result in an undercount of the overall population in many areas. The state of California has already filed suit, arguing that including the question is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York announced he would lead a separate multistate legal challenge.

The decennial census influences political representation in Congress and federal funding for an assortment of programs. The Commerce Department says that between 1820 and 1950, almost every decennial census asked a question on citizenship in some form.

The citizenship question already appears on the bureau’s American Community Survey, an annual count that reaches a smaller number of households. It asks whether a person is a citizen, by birth or by naturalization, but does not ask about legal or illegal immigration status.

About half of the country’s 44 million immigrants are U.S. citizens, according to the latest American Community Survey. Among those who have not taken the oath, about half are undocumented, according to the Pew Research Center.

Once an undocumented immigrant, Gladis Perez benefited from a 1986 amnesty program to legalize her status. The native of Guatemala became a citizen five years ago.

“I wouldn’t answer any questions before,” she said as she made her way to work on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t even open the door. If I were still undocumented, I would avoid this survey at any cost.”

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