PHOENIX — Latino elected officials from around the nation questioned the head of the U.S. Census Bureau on Saturday over the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 survey, denouncing it as a purely political move.
Members of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials said the decision to ask about citizenship status will result in an undercount of Latino communities.
At the group's annual conference in Phoenix this week, several said the question will deter many from responding to the survey for fear that authorities will use the information against them.
Acting Director Ron Jarmin said the Census Bureau is barred by law from sharing data with other government agencies.
"People have always had trepidation about responding to a government survey," Jarmin said. "The critical message that we need to get out to everybody is that participation in the Census is safe, it's secure."
The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years, and its results are used to determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives, as well as how federal money is distributed to local communities and schools.
Latino leaders at the conference on Saturday said they fear the question of citizenship will be detrimental to an accurate count of people living the U.S.
"We know it's a political thing, we know it's gonna affect our communities," executive director Arturo Vargas said. "Everybody knows this is just bad policy."
The announcement in March by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to include the question was met with criticism and has resulted in several lawsuits, including one in California and another in New York brought by 17 Democratic attorneys general and others. Ross said the question was needed in part to help the government enforce the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 law meant to protect the political representation of minorities. The decennial census hasn't included a question about citizenship since 1950.
But panelists like U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-California, said there is a more sinister reason to add the question. Gomez said the administration has misled Congress about why it really wants to do so.
"I think this is a real travesty, I think the American people should be outraged," Gomez said.
The Trump administration's ultimate goal is to take congressional seats from areas with a high population of immigrants, he added.
Lubby Navarro, a member of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Board, said adding the citizenship question will make it harder for community leaders who advocate for participation.
"The fear that exists right now with the citizenship question is going to exacerbate our work," Navarro said.