Editorial: Much at stake in the upcoming U.S. Census

Published 11:56 am Saturday, March 31, 2018

The decision to ask people about their citizenship in the 2020 census has garnered much discussion this week across the country.

The last time the question about citizenship was asked of all U.S. households was in 1950, when the form asked where each person was born and whether people born out of the country were naturalized.

Ten years later in 1960, the question remained about where each person was born but did not ask about citizenship.

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Supporters have said adding the question will provide more accurate data, help protect the right to vote and ensure free and fair elections. While we agree with striving for accurate data, we are afraid the question may actually contribute to the opposite. People already on edge with the current administration’s words and actions on immigration will be less likely to respond out of fear.

What impact does this have?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s own website, accurate data is crucial in apportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and in deciding how more than $400 billion per year is allocated for projects such as hospitals and schools. Even businesses looking to relocate to a community consider population statistics.

This hits close to home for Minnesota as the state is at risk of losing a congressional seat because other areas in the country are growing at a faster rate. If fewer people fill out the census questionnaire, this could make it even more likely for Minnesota to lose a seat. Ultimately, this would mean larger districts and less representation in Washington, D.C., for constituents back home — along with representation in the Electoral College.

People not filling out the census because of the citizenship question could also affect Austin and Mower County.

Mower County must have a population of at least 30,000 to ensure its Public Health Department would not be required to join a neighboring department or the county’s Human Services Department. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were 39,566 in 2016. While we were not close to the threshold in 2016, 2017 numbers are not in yet and Austin has an increasingly diverse population. Failure to fill out the census could endanger resources we need.

If the intention of the census is to get an accurate number of people within the state and country as required by the Constitution — and not for immigration enforcement — it is important for those who live within our borders to be able to submit their information without invoking fear.

Much is at stake with the results.