Monday, the Trump administration announced it would be shaving four weeks off the deadline for people to respond to the 2020 census, effectively ensuring certain minority communities will be undercounted.
Democratic lawmakers nationwide have complained that the move could hurt their chances of reelection since the census alters the way congressional seats are filled. But there’s an even more pressing problem, said Valerie Martinez-Ebers, a University of North Texas political science professor who also directs its Latino and Mexican-American Studies program.
“Unless we get a complete count of the entire resident population, cities are going to lose a lot in federal funds,” Martinez-Ebers said.
If Dallas is undercounted, that would mean it will lose money for roads, disaster relief, schools and health programs that's apportioned by population, she said.
It’s highly unlikely the area will get a complete tally, though: The new Sept. 30 deadline will make it more difficult for counters to obtain an accurate total, she said. Plus, President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric could also scare those communities away from participating.
In 2016, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington had the nation’s fourth-largest undocumented immigrant population, according to the Pew Research Center.
It was already difficult to include hard-to-reach populations in the U.S. Census Bureau’s count. The pandemic has made it exponentially worse, though, since counters can’t go door-to-door as easily as they once did, Martinez-Ebers said.
Since the pandemic has caused churches to scale back services, it will also be harder to spread the word throughout Dallas’ Black communities, said state Rep. Carl Sherman, who serves southern Dallas County.
Dallas County could stand to lose more than $40 million a year in funding with even a 1% undercount, Sherman said.
“It’s going to affect our entire city and our entire economic system here,” he said.
In addition, civil rights groups nationwide have warned that the decision will cause impoverished and rural communities to be undercounted.
“Obviously we’re very concerned,” said Sarah Brannon, the managing attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Voting Rights Project. “We feel like this is part of the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to discount immigrants in America and to deprive them of their right to political power and their fair share of federal funding.”
The new deadline could mean disaster for the state's educational system, Sherman said. With a severe undercount, Texas could even run out of classrooms for students, he said.
Not only that, but hospitals could soon become even more overwhelmed. Texas is already facing a shortage of hospital beds because of the coronavirus, Sherman said, so not accounting for the state’s entire population could have grave consequences.
“We don’t have the capacity to provide for the population that we have now,” he said. “We know we’re growing, and this will only create more of a burden on a system that needs expansion.”
This isn’t the first time Trump has tried to tinker with the census. He had threatened to add a citizenship question before the U.S. Supreme Court blocked him from doing so last year.
Regardless, Martinez-Ebers said the attempt has scared immigrants, both documented and undocumented, away from responding.
“There’s the perception that [the census] is surveillance, which it never was before,” she said. “There’s all sorts of mixed signals the Census Bureau has been sending too, so put all this together, and it’s probably going to be the biggest undercount we’ve ever had.”
There will not be a citizenship question on the 2020 Census. Residents can submit their form online, over the phone or by mail.
Trump also instructed the Census Bureau to produce state counts of undocumented immigrants so that he can subtract them from the final total before Congress reapportions its seats, according to The New York Times. Multiple lawsuits are challenging that order.
This is just the latest in a series of moves made by Trump to stack the deck in his favor, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
Jillson said that 70% of Texas’ Anglo voters lean conservative; they’re also more likely than minority populations to fill out their census. Altogether, that could swing the scales in Republicans’ favor, he said.
“If you’re not counting Hispanics and Asians in their full numbers, the Anglo districts are spreading out and becoming a little larger,” Jillson said. “It’s an advantage to Republicans on the margin and a disadvantage to Democrats – which is the plan, right?”
Texas gained four congressional seats after the 2010 Census, according to the Legislative Reference Library of Texas. Considering how much the state's population has grown over the past decade, it was expected to gain another two or three more, Jillson said.
Now, though, Texas might lose one of those expected seats, he said.
Sherman said that Trump’s decision is a calculated move that could have serious consequences for communities living in Texas’ urban areas.
“He is clearly weaponizing the census,” Sherman said. “And I can only hope that everyone will see the need to be counted and ensure that they will complete the census.”
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