Biden Is Reviving An Effort To Change How The Census Asks About Race And Ethnicity

Of note (as Canada continues its review):

President Biden’s White House is reviving a previously stalled review of proposed policy changes that could allow the Census Bureau to ask about people’s race and ethnicity in a radical new way in time for the 2030 head count, NPR has learned.

First proposed in 2016, the recommendations lost steam during former President Donald Trump’s administration despite years of research by the bureau that suggested a new question format would improve the accuracy of 2020 census data about Latinos and people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa.

The proposals also appear to have received the backing of other federal government experts on data about race and ethnicity, based on a redacted document that NPR obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The document lists headings for redacted descriptions of the group’s “recommended improvements,” including “Improve data quality: Allow flexibility in question format for self-reported race and ethnicity.”

Stalling by Trump officials, however, sealed the fate of last year’s census forms. With no public decision by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, the bureau was forced to stick with previously used racial and ethnic categories and a question format that, the agency’s studies show, a growing number of people find confusing and not reflective of how they identify.

That has raised concerns about the reliability of the next set of 2020 census results, which are expected out by Aug. 16 and face a tangle of other complications stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration’s interference with the count’s schedule and the bureau’s new privacy protection plans. That detailed demographic data is used to redraw voting districts, enforce civil rights protections and guide policymaking and research.

The review continues under Biden’s OMB

The proposals, however, may be approved by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget under the Biden administration, which has been calling to change how the government produces and uses data about people of color and other marginalized groups.

“We are continuing to review the prior technical recommendations and public comment, and the extent to which those recommendations help advance this Administration’s goal of gathering the data necessary to inform our ambitious equity agenda,” Abdullah Hasan, an OMB spokesperson, tells NPR.

Hasan did not provide a timeline for the current review of the proposed changes to the government’s standards for data about race and ethnicity, which are set by OMB and must be followed by all federal agencies, including the bureau. OMB had previously planned to announce a decision in 2017, before the bureau had to finalize the 2020 census forms.

Other recommended changes include no longer officially allowing federal surveys to use the term “Negro” to describe the “Black” category. Another proposal would remove the term “Far East” from the standards as a description of a geographic region of origin for people of Asian descent.

Support from Biden’s pick for Census Bureau director

This month, Biden’s nominee for Census Bureau director, Robert Santos, pledged to lawmakers that, if confirmed, he would support one of the major recommendations, which would allow census forms to combine the separate race and Hispanic origin questions into one. A combined question, tests by the bureau’s researchers show, would help the bureau address the problem of increasingly more people leaving the race question unanswered or checking off the box for “Some Other Race”— the third-largest racial group reported in 2000 and 2010.

“The census director doesn’t have the authority to include any specific questions,” Santos said in response to a question from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “But I can use my own personal perspective as a Latino and use my research experience and my leadership position to work with OMB to make sure that the proper attention is given to that specific issue.”

An expert in designing surveys and currently the Urban Institute’s chief methodologist, Santos has written about the need for questions and categories on census forms to “evolve and adapt to ensure everyone is fairly represented,” including the Latinx population, one of the country’s fastest-growing groups.

“Racial and ethnic categories are social constructs, defined and designed by those who have historically held positions of influence,” Santos said in a 2019 blog post co-written with Jorge González-Hermoso, an Urban Institute research analyst. “The policy implications of using inadequate methods to collect data on identity are not trivial.”

During the hearing, Santos suggested that if OMB ultimately approves the proposed policy changes, the bureau may not have to wait until the 2030 census to use a combined race-ethnicity question, which Santos said could potentially be incorporated into the bureau’s ongoing American Community Survey.

Did Trump’s botched census citizenship push cost red states?


Among the many haphazard and politically transparent moves by the Trump administration, few rank quite as high on both measures as its botched push for a census citizenship question. The move was widely criticized as a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade undocumented immigrants from responding and to give the GOP a tool to draw more favorable political maps. The Supreme Court wound up rejecting the whole thing, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. effectively accusing the administration of hiding its true motives.

But even when the administration succumbed, some warned that damage might already have been done — that certain immigrants might still shy away from responding because of fears engendered by the lengthy battle. And there was data to back that up.

So did it happen? It’s not quite clear that it did in significant measure, but there are some indications it might have — though perhaps to the detriment of Trump’s red-state allies rather than Democrats.

Source: Did Trump’s botched census citizenship push cost red states?

Immigration Hard-Liner Files Reveal 40-Year Bid Behind Trump’s Census Obsession

Good long read of the history behind undercounting the US population in the census:

Even before taking office, former President Donald Trump’s administration obsessed over the U.S. census.

From a failed bid for a citizenship question to a presidential memo about unauthorized immigrants that was fast-tracked to the Supreme Court, its moves over the past four years followed a playbook first drawn up more than four decades ago by the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

In 1979, the hard-line group that became the most influential advocate for extreme restrictions on immigration launched a campaign that has held onto one consistent goal — obtaining an official count of unauthorized immigrants through the census to radically reshape Congress, the Electoral College and public policy.

Starting with a lawsuit filed weeks before the official start of the 1980 census, FAIR documented its strategy in a paper trail that NPR has reviewed in the organization’s archives at the George Washington University, as well as those of FAIR’s founder at the University of Michigan.

“It’s always been on the agenda,” Dan Stein, FAIR’s president, tells NPR, noting that it’s “very possible” that, as early as November 2016, the group discussed with Trump officials the possibility of excluding unauthorized immigrants from a key set of 2020 census results.

To some, it may seem curious that part of Trump’s agenda zeroed in on an often overlooked government tally of every person living in the U.S.

But census numbers hold what Trump has always wanted — power.

That power comes in the form of 435 votes in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Once a decade, those votes are up for grabs among the states based on new census numbers. The more residents included in a state’s population count, the more of a say it has for the next 10 years in how federal laws are made and how the next occupant of the White House is chosen.

The Constitution has spelled out specific instructions for the census. Not just citizens or voters, but “persons” who reside in the states are supposed to be counted. Congress eventually codified the 14th Amendment’s language into federal law that calls for the “whole number of persons” living in each state and the “tabulation of total population” to be used when reapportioning House seats and electoral votes.

Census counting does have a thorny history. Before the Civil War, the fifth sentence of the country’s founding document required an enslaved person to be counted as “three fifths” of a free person. And it was just before the 1940 census that the Census Bureau determined the phrase “excluding Indians not taxed” could no longer omit some American Indians from the apportionment counts.

But since the first U.S. head count in 1790, this has been an unwavering truth: No resident has ever been left out because of immigration status.

Trump officials attempted to break with that 230-year precedent. The administration, like FAIR, wanted to subtract unauthorized immigrants from the apportionment counts, taking power away from those residents and the communities where they live.

One of President Biden’s first executive orders officially quashed the Trump memo that called for that extraordinary change.

But during the Trump years, FAIR came closer to getting that count of unauthorized immigrants than it has ever before.

A page out of an old playbook

The start of the Trump administration’s four-year census saga centered around a hotly contested question: Is this person a citizen of the United States?

Trump officials wanted to use the census to directly ask for the citizenship status of every person living in every household in the country for the first time in U.S. history. That proposal has long been considered anathema to best practices for a complete and accurate head count, and the administration was not up front about exactly why it wanted to add the question to the 2020 census.

Many opponents of that citizenship question argued it was originally intended to depress census participation. Under federal law, no government agency or court can use personal information collected by the Census Bureau against anyone. But a long history of distrust of the census has made many noncitizens, Latinos, Asian Americans, and other historically undercounted groups wary of telling the government their household’s citizenship status.

Some of the question’s critics also pointed to a scheme concocted by a GOP redistricting mastermind, Thomas Hofeller, to use the neighborhood block-level citizenship data the question would generate to politically benefit Republicans and “Non-Hispanic Whites” in state and local elections for years to come.

To Roger Conner, who led FAIR until 1988 as the group’s first executive director, it was clear that the Trump administration had another goal in mind — to change how congressional seats and electoral votes are reapportioned in order to curtail the political representation of areas where unauthorized immigrants live.

“I was saying to myself, ‘This is perfectly obvious. Why can’t someone figure out what’s going on?’ ” Conner says, recalling the Trump administration’s push for a citizenship question. “I assume that’s because they thought it was not in their interest to let everybody know what their strategy was.”

That strategy (which the administration never directly connected to apportionment until Trump’s memo was released years later) began percolating through Trump’s world even before he took office.

During the 2016 campaign, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — an immigration hard-liner who has worked as a counsel to FAIR’s legal arm and was described by FAIR’s president as an “invaluable asset” to Trump’s immigration team — discussed a census citizenship question with campaign officials.

Shortly after the inauguration in 2017, Kobach talked about the question with Trump, then-chief strategist Steve Bannon and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, according to Kobach’s testimony to congressional investigators.

Kobach later urged Wilbur Ross, the Trump-appointed commerce secretary overseeing the bureau, to add a specially-worded citizenship question to the census. It should also ask about immigration status, Kobach suggested in an email, so that the responses could address “the problem that aliens who do not actually ‘reside’ in the United States are still counted for congressional apportionment purposes.”

Other internal emails released for the lawsuits over the question show that the reapportionment of congressional seats was top of mind for Ross shortly after taking over the Commerce Department. In a March 2017 message from fellow Trump appointee Earl Comstock with the subject line “Your Question on the Census,” Ross received a link to a Census Bureau webpage that answered: “Are undocumented residents (aliens) in the 50 states included in the apportionment population counts?”

“Yes,” the bureau’s official response said.

But when Ross officially announced a citizenship question in 2018 as a late addition to the 2020 census form, it didn’t come with Kobach’s apportionment reasoning or checkboxes about immigration status. Instead, Ross used the Voting Rights Act to publicly justify the question, claiming the responses would help the Justice Department better enforce the civil rights era-law and protect “minority population voting rights.”

More than a year later, the Supreme Court rejected that justification for appearing to be “contrived” and blocked the question from appearing on the 2020 census.

After threatening to delay the census in the wake of his Supreme Court loss, Trump issued an executive order in July 2019 that directed other federal agencies to share their citizenship records with the Census Bureau, which was already under orders from Ross to use records to produce anonymized, block-level data about the U.S. citizenship status of every adult living in the U.S. that states could use for redistricting.

Buried within Trump’s order about citizenship data was a new policy of developing “complete and accurate” data on “illegal aliens in the country” that did not attract much attention at the time. Existing estimates by the Department of Homeland Security and academic researchers, the order said, are not reliable enough to “evaluate” policy proposals about enforcing immigration laws and changing eligibility rules for public benefits.

“Data tabulating both the overall population and the citizen population could be combined with records of aliens lawfully present in the country to generate an estimate of the aggregate number of aliens unlawfully present in each State,” said Trump’s order, which Biden reversed last month.

At the White House Rose Garden announcement for Trump’s directive, the then-head of the Justice Department, William Barr, made no direct mention of how the DOJ could use the data to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Instead, Barr made sure to highlight how the data “may be relevant” to a lawsuit filed in 2018 by the state of Alabama “over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes.”

FAIR’s underground beginnings

These signals from the Trump administration echoed arguments FAIR first made more than 40 years ago.

Toward the end of the 1970s, FAIR was a fledgling advocacy group desperate to emerge from a windowless basement office in Washington, D.C., as a national voice.

The U.S. was more than a decade into major demographic shifts: A greater and greater share of people living inside the U.S. were born elsewhere, and a predominantly white population was becoming less so.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had ended an earlier quota system that favored people from Northern and Western Europe, while also imposing the first caps on the number of people allowed to enter from Mexico and other countries in the Western Hemisphere. The landmark law, along with the end of a legal program for temporary farmworkers from Mexico, helped usher in a rise in immigration, both legal and illegal, from Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world.

That led John Tanton — an eye doctor from a mostly white resort town along Lake Michigan who held a particular interest in population control as a form of environmentalism — to start FAIR.

The group’s calls for an end to illegal immigration and fewer legal pathways for newcomers were not met with fanfare.

“We were obviously very small fish in a very big pond, and so got little attention,” Tanton later recalled in an oral history interview that touched on FAIR’s early days working underground with less than a handful of staffers.

To try to make a splash, FAIR went to court in December 1979.

Its federal lawsuit against former President Jimmy Carter’s administration called for a citizenship question to be included on both the long and short versions of the 1980 census form. The responses, FAIR argued, would generate a count of noncitizens that could eventually produce a state-by-state tally of unauthorized immigrants by matching noncitizens with green cards to government records.

Concerned about persistent undercounts, some census advocates at the time focused their energy on encouraging unauthorized immigrants to participate in the count.

Conner, FAIR’s first executive director, recalls reading a 1979 newspaper article about that effort and says FAIR sued partly out of concern that including unauthorized immigrants in the apportionment counts would increase the political power of “institutions that would favor the perpetuation, the expansion of immigration.”

Roger Conner, shown here in 1981, led the Federation for American Immigration Reform as its first executive director until 1988. Now a woodworker in Nashville, Tenn., Conner condemns Trump officials’ efforts to alter census apportionment counts. “I can only understand it as a pure expression of racism and evil,” Conner says. “And yet I have to own I took this same position 40 years ago.”

Still, in a 1980 statement to the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigation, Conner wrote that while FAIR wants unauthorized immigrants excluded from apportionment, it also “supports and encourages a full and accurate counting of illegal immigrants in the 1980 Census.”

“This is a difficult and perhaps impossible undertaking,” Conner added, “but it should nevertheless be worthwhile to attempt to gather more accurate information than we now possess about the number and characteristics of illegal immigrants within the United States.”

Finding lawyers in Washington willing to make FAIR’s arguments in court, though, was not easy.

“I had to explain to them why limiting immigration was the right thing, and FAIR wasn’t a racist group,” Conner explained in a 1989 oral history interview documented in the organization’s archives. “It was a lost cause.”

“The language of the Constitution is not ambiguous”

FAIR’s last-minute lawsuit eventually paid off in terms of media attention. It garnered a radio segment on NPR’s Morning Edition and a front-page, below-the-fold story in The New York Times, among other news coverage.

But the case was tossed out of a lower court, and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. FAIR and the other plaintiffs did not have a right to sue, the three-judge panel of the lower court in D.C. ruled. And their case, the panel noted, appeared “very weak on the merits.”

“The language of the Constitution is not ambiguous,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “It requires the counting of the ‘whole number of persons’ for apportionment purposes, and while illegal aliens were not a component of the population at the time the Constitution was adopted, they are clearly ‘persons.’ ”

Going back to the 1920s, the judges pointed out, there have been multiple attempts to leave unauthorized immigrants and other noncitizens out of the apportionment counts. But with no change to the country’s founding document, they have all failed. Their opinion quotes the remarks of Rep. Emanuel Celler, a Democrat from New York, during a 1940 House debate over whether unauthorized immigrants could be omitted:

“The Constitution says that all persons shall be counted. I cannot quarrel with the founding fathers. They said that all should be counted. We count the convicts who are just as dangerous and just as bad as the Communists or as the Nazis, as those aliens here illegally, and I would not come here and have the temerity to say that the convicts shall be excluded, if the founding fathers say they shall be included. The only way we can exclude them would be to pass a constitutional amendment.”

Sen. David Reed, a Republican from Pennsylvania, came to the same conclusion more than a decade earlier in the 1920s.

After the 1920 census, reapportioning House seats was so heated, in fact, that for the first time in U.S. history the process didn’t happen at all that decade. The Republican majority of a mostly rural Congress stalled on the constitutional mandate, refusing to use numbers that confirmed the U.S. had become a predominantly urban nation.

Weeks before lawmakers passed the 1929 law that turned reapportionment into an automatic process after the 1930 count, Reed took part in a Senate debate over whether “aliens,” including unauthorized immigrants, could be excluded from the counts.

Reed was a namesake and architect of the Johnson-Reed Act, also known as the Immigration Act of 1924 that was designed to suppress people from Eastern and Southern Europe, and completely stop people from Asia, from immigrating to the U.S.

“I disagree to the bottom of my heart,” Reed emphasized on the Senate floor, with the Constitution’s original framers and the 14th Amendment’s drafters choosing to use the term “persons” in their apportionment instructions instead of “citizens” or “voters who actually have cast their votes at the last general election.”

But Reed could not support a bill amendment for excluding unauthorized immigrants and other noncitizens because, the senator said, “the oath which we take to support the Constitution includes the obligation to support it when we dislike its provisions as well as when we are in sympathy with them.”

“It is literally now or never”

Despite losing in the courts, FAIR tried to muster support for more legal action after its 1979 lawsuit.

Tanton, FAIR’s founder, looked for donors to stand up a $50,000 a year litigation program. In a 1980 letter written to a potential funder before FAIR’s appeal ended, Tanton said that if their census lawsuit failed, “illegals will have Representatives beholden to them, effectively foreclosing any chance of stemming their influx. It is literally now or never: the decision rests on those of us who understand the problem.”

The census lawsuit was a tool for getting “middle America” to support FAIR’s work, Tanton later explained in a 1981 letter to an attorney who helped start the group’s litigation program, by showing them that immigration was a “problem” not just for states like Texas, California and Florida.

In the same letter, Tanton floated the possibility of also pushing for the exclusion of green card holders, who are authorized to permanently stay in the U.S., and carrying out “citizen-only reapportionment,” which “would further sweeten FAIR’s prospects by shifting seats away from areas where politicians are compromised by an immigrant constituency.”

According to records in FAIR’s archives, though, the group stayed focused on the exclusion of unauthorized immigrants. One of FAIR’s attorneys tried to persuade the states of Indiana and Missouri, which each lost a vote in the House and Electoral College after the 1980 census, as well as Alabama and Georgia, to sue over the apportionment results, and Conner, FAIR’s first executive director, worked on selling the idea to the organization’s board of directors.

“This lawsuit, with a potential for altering the 1984 Presidential election, will garner an inordinate amount of publicity,” Conner wrote in an internal memo that year, suggesting the attention would be “extremely useful as a device to shift the news media focus” toward “the problems caused by illegal migration” and away from criticism of a FAIR-backed proposal for sanctions against employers who hire unauthorized immigrants.

Even so, it would take four more years before FAIR filed its second lawsuit over census apportionment counts. In 1988, it challenged the administration of former President Ronald Reagan over its plans for the 1990 census. This time, FAIR was joined by the states of Alabama, Kansas and Pennsylvania, as well as a more high-profile lead plaintiff — U.S. Rep. Tom Ridge, the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who later became the state’s governor and the country’s first homeland security secretary.

In an attempt to recruit lawmakers to their cause, FAIR targeted delegations from states that were projected to lose House seats if the apportionment counts were altered to leave out unauthorized immigrants. FAIR emphasized that if successful, the lawsuit would not hurt states’ bottom lines. Unauthorized immigrants would still be counted in the census numbers used to guide the distribution of federal grants to states, just not in the counts for dividing up House seats and electoral votes.

But the outcome in court turned out the same: The case was dismissed without a trial.

Still, Tanton was not ready to give up. Months after that loss in 1989, Tanton wrote a letter to the head of FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, about a news report on the likelihood of Michigan losing two House seats after the 1990 census.

“This stirs the pot,” Tanton said, “and again makes me wonder about refiling the census suit[,] say from Michigan, after the results are announced and before apportionment takes place when the actual shift of seats will be known. How complex would this be?”

“Trying to stop” the “browning of America”

The year before FAIR lost its second attempt to exclude unauthorized immigrants through the courts, Tanton came under public scrutiny. A 1988 article in The Arizona Republic revealed that he had denigrated Latinos and warned of a “Latin onslaught” in a memo written for an immigration conference.

“How will we make the transition from a dominant non-Hispanic society with a Spanish influence to a dominant Spanish society with non-Hispanic influence?” asked Tanton, who, until he died in July 2019, was listed on FAIR’s website as a member of its national board of advisers. “As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?”

“What they were trying to stop was the browning of America,” says Arnoldo Torres, who was a vocal critic of FAIR’s policies as the executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens until 1985.

Among FAIR’s policy positions — which over the years have included opposing pathways to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and ending the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship — altering the census apportionment counts was “not the issue that they led off with,” but was “always an undercurrent,” Torres recalls. “This was not a passing fancy.”

“They were in for the long haul. They knew they were not going to get it right away,” Torres says. “They knew eventually that the tide would change.”

In the meantime, FAIR developed plans to change the apportionment process and get a count of unauthorized immigrants through the two other branches of government, having so far failed in the courts. An internal report prepared for FAIR’s board of directors in October 1987 called it a “three-pronged approach.”

One strategy included lobbying Congress to require the Census Bureau to “differentiate illegal aliens from citizens and legal residents on its questionnaire” for the head count, Simin Yazdgerdi, FAIR’s then-director of government relations, wrote in the report.

During an August 1987 strategy session, FAIR determined its legislative strategy “should be conducted quietly so that the courts would not be tempted to a) delay making a decision until Congress had acted; or b) use any negative legislative history (i.e., floor statements, testimony) against us,” according to an internal memo by Yazdgerdi.

“Emphasize how Republicans will be hurt most by inclusion of illegal aliens,” the memo specified about how to persuade the Reagan administration’s Justice Department and Office of Management and Budget to “influence” the Census Bureau.

While FAIR may have expected a more receptive audience among GOP members, support for omitting unauthorized immigrants from apportionment did not fall neatly along party lines in the 1980s.

In fact, among the plaintiffs joining Rep. Ridge in FAIR’s lawsuit before the 1990 census were House Democrats from Alabama, Connecticut, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Before the suit was filed, Ridge and Democratic Rep. Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut spearheaded a 1987 House bill that called for excluding unauthorized immigrants and including U.S. military and civilian Defense Department employees stationed abroad, who at the time were not expected to be counted for apportionment.

In 1988, the Justice Department told lawmakers that it opposed the bill because excluding unauthorized immigrants from the apportionment counts, it concluded, is unconstitutional. “If it were passed, we would recommend that the President veto it,” wrote then-Acting Assistant Attorney General Thomas Boyd, a Reagan appointee.

The House bill stayed stuck in committee, but it had bipartisan support, including from Democratic cosponsors from Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas.

“It’s hard to explain to people. The Democrats were aligned with organized labor [and] didn’t want immigrants,” says Antonia Hernández, who opposed FAIR on immigration policy as president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund for close to two decades beginning in 1985. MALDEF tried to intervene in FAIR’s 1988 lawsuit to defend the inclusion of unauthorized immigrants in apportionment counts.

As for the third prong of FAIR’s strategy, the group mapped out the possibility of a “favorable White House decision” that would instruct the Census Bureau to collect information on people’s immigration status, according to the group’s 1987 board report. But that path did not open until Trump became president 30 years later.

“The efforts have been clumsy”

After the 1990 census, FAIR shifted its focus toward Congress given its lack of headway in the courts and with presidential administrations.

“You don’t want to involve yourself in quixotic efforts that are doomed to fail,” says Stein, the group’s president who first joined FAIR in 1982.

But FAIR’s calculations changed after Trump won.

After entering office, the Trump administration put in place many hard-line immigration proposals long championed by FAIR and the network of organizations that grew from it — including cutting the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. down to historic lows. Former FAIR staffers, including Julie Kirchner, who became the ombudsman at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after running FAIR for nearly a decade as its executive director, also joined the administration’s ranks.

Though Trump’s White House press office did not respond to NPR’s questions about whether the administration consulted with FAIR on its push to exclude unauthorized immigrants from apportionment counts, Stein says: “It was certainly part of our legislative plan for the new administration back in November of 2016.”

Hernández, MALDEF’s former president, says that the lack of comprehensive immigration reform helped thrust the apportionment issue front and center during the Trump administration. “It’s just gained steam and gained steam,” Hernández says.

In the decades since its basement beginnings, FAIR has expanded into a suite of offices near the U.S. Capitol, across the street from the office of the USCIS director. FAIR’s staff, including its legal arm, now totals 36, according to spokesperson Matthew Tragesser.

With the Trump administration in power, FAIR gained an invaluable advantage — a ready and willing partner inside the federal government during the final 2020 census planning stages.

“What they haven’t been yet able to do through the courts, they’ve been able to do through the executive branch,” Hernández says. “And they’ve been in such a hurry to do something, the efforts have been clumsy.”

The administration’s inconsistency was on full display during the citizenship question lawsuits. Public statements about Voting Rights Act enforcement fronted behind-the-scenes discussions about altering census numbers for House seat reapportionment.

A redacted August 2017 email appeared to foreshadow what became the administration’s ultimate strategy — citing a 1992 Supreme Court rulingto argue that the president has the discretion to decide whether to include unauthorized immigrants in the apportionment counts.

“Ultimately, we do not make decisions on how the data should be used for apportionment, that is for Congress (or possibly the President) to decide,” wrote then-Commerce Department attorney James Uthmeier. “I think that’s our hook here.”

Then, while testifying under oath about the citizenship question in 2018, Trump officials could not avoid bringing up apportionment.

John Gore — a Justice Department appointee at the time who testified that adding the citizenship question to census forms was not necessary for enforcing the Voting Rights Act — confirmed that when Jeff Sessions was U.S. attorney general, there was discussion at the highest levels of the DOJ about reapportioning House seats using “some other measure” than the total number of residents in each state.

Trump himself tied the push for a citizenship question to apportionment the same day the White House released the July 2020 presidential memo about excluding unauthorized immigrants. In a written statement, Trump said:

“Last summer in the Rose Garden, I told the American people that I would not back down in my effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population. Today, I am following through on that commitment by directing the Secretary of Commerce to exclude illegal aliens from the apportionment base following the 2020 census.”

Some career Census Bureau officials suspected that Trump’s memo helped drive the administration to suddenly direct the bureau to rush counting last summer and cut back on quality checks for the 2020 census results, a report by the Commerce inspector general’s officerevealed. The administration appeared desperate to get a hold of census results before the end of Trump’s term in case Biden won the election.

Practical challenges

Despite posing serious threats to the count’s accuracy and the bureau’s credibility as a statistical agency, Trump’s memo, like the administration’s other census efforts, largely flew under the radar, frequently sidelined by other controversies.

At a press conference in July, hours after the release of a memo calling for the unprecedented exclusion of unauthorized immigrants from the apportionment counts, not a single reporter asked Trump a question about the directive.

Weeks later, federal courts began declaring the memo unlawful and in some of the cases, unconstitutional as well. After the Supreme Court agreed to squeeze in a hearing for the Trump administration’s appeal last fall, though, the high court’s conservative majority ruled it was too early to weigh in.

In the end, timing and bureaucracy thwarted Trump’s plans to alter the latest state population counts. The administration tried to pressure the Census Bureau to prematurely end quality checks, which were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. But career civil servants postponed releasing the first set of census results after unearthing incomplete and duplicate responses.

As the inauguration of President Biden drew closer, another reality was setting in that made Trump’s apportionment plan practically impossible. The Census Bureau could only come up with reliable numbers for a fraction of the unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S.

Still, even during its final days in office, the administration did not give up on trying to get state-by-state figures of unauthorized immigrants and other noncitizens. A last-minute push by the Trump-appointed Census Bureau director, Steven Dillingham — as well as two controversial appointees, Nathaniel Cogley and Benjamin Overholtsparked whistleblower complaints about demands to produce “statistically indefensible” data, and Dillingham ultimately resigned.

Without a citizenship or immigration status question on the 2020 census forms, government records the Trump administration directed the bureau to use could only generate a state-by-state count of unauthorized immigrants in detention centers.

For the rest of the population, the bureau could produce estimates. But the methods it would have to use are saddled with “difficult-to-verify assumptions” and could “introduce substantial imprecision” to the census results, top career officials warned in a March 2020 memo.

“It is our professional judgement that these methods produce estimates of the undocumented foreign-born population at the state level that could inform policy makers,” but they may not be usable when reapportioning House seats because they require the use of statistical sampling, which is not allowed, wrote John Abowd, the bureau’s chief scientist, and Victoria Velkoff, associate director of the bureau’s demographic programs.

The bureau has also warned, for decades, that using the national head count to identify unauthorized immigrants could undermine public trust in the federal statistical agency. That, in turn, could exacerbate historical undercounts of immigrants and people of color and reduce their areas’ share of census-guided federal funding.

“We realize that our job would be made still harder … if we had an image of being an investigative unit,” Leo Estrada, who was serving as a special assistant to the bureau’s deputy director, told NPR in 1980 in response to FAIR’s first apportionment lawsuit.

Producing figures of unauthorized immigrants should be a “job for some other agency,” Estrada said.

The bureau has shelved the Trump administration’s project for creating unauthorized immigrant counts. But that work could play a role in the ongoing lawsuit by the state of Alabama and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from that state who voted against certifying Biden’s victory in the 2020 election and told crowds at a rally before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol that it was the day for “taking down names and kicking ass.”

Biden’s executive order has restored the longstanding policy of including all residents regardless of immigration status in apportionment counts. But Brooks and the office of Alabama State Attorney General Steve Marshall are still trying to convince U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor to order unauthorized immigrants to be left out.

The future of “we the people”

For Conner, FAIR’s first executive director, it’s long past time to end this fight.

More than four decades after helping to launch FAIR’s campaign, Conner says he has since come to recognize the long ties many unauthorized immigrants have to the U.S.

“When you say ‘we the people of the United States,’ you have to include them,” Conner says.

Now a woodworker based in Nashville, Tenn., Conner condemns the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement for not focusing on deterring employers from hiring unauthorized workers.

“For this administration to take up the census lawsuit after they have subverted any effort to recognize the implicit invitation for immigrants to come undocumented to this country to work, to live,” Conner says, “I can only understand it as a pure expression of racism and evil. And yet I have to own I took this same position 40 years ago.”

FAIR, however, remains committed to changing who is counted in apportionment and obtaining numbers of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.

“You want to have as much data as possible about the fiscal, environmental and societal impacts of immigration,” says Stein, FAIR’s president.

Stein acknowledges the stakes of bringing this issue before the highest court in the land. If the justices declared that reapportioning House seats and electoral votes without unauthorized immigrants is unconstitutional, FAIR would have to resort to advocating for a constitutional amendment, which Stein calls a “very heavy lift.”

But the Trump administration left office with no definitive Supreme Court ruling on its plan to alter counts that, according to the Constitution, must include the “whole number of persons in each state.”

That leaves the door open for Alabama’s lawsuit and any future legal challenges to test their limits in the courts. And as planning ramps up for the 2030 census, it leaves behind a lingering question: How much further could FAIR’s campaign go if another president in line with its ambitions enters the White House?

Source: Immigration Hard-Liner Files Reveal 40-Year Bid Behind Trump’s Census Obsession

The Census Is Not Over: What’s Ahead During The Biden Transition

To watch:

Counting has ended, but the 2020 census is not over yet — and it’s likely to get tangled in the fraught transition to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration.

Some major final steps for this year’s national head count are set to take place while President Trump is still in office. That includes the release of the first set of results, legally due by Dec. 31, that are used to reapportion congressional seats among states and reset the Electoral College map for the next decade. Under federal law, the president is required by Jan. 10 to hand off those numbers to Congress for certification.

And the census continues to be mired in legal fights over the Trump administration’s push to alter the apportionment numbers, as well as last-minute decisions to shorten the schedule for the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the United States. A federal judge in California, plus Census Bureau employees themselves, said those changes risked serious data inaccuracies.

Once in office, the Biden administration is poised to start shaping the 2030 count and could reverse some of the Trump administration’s census-related moves. Perhaps most notably, Biden could stop the bureau from producing citizenship data the Trump administration requested that could be used to radically change state-level redistricting in a way that a prominent Republican strategist concluded would benefit Republicans and non-Hispanic white people.

“It’s probably no secret that the census is not top of mind for every administration on an ongoing basis,” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former staff director of the House Oversight subcommittee for the census who advised the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008. “But this time is really different because this census faced unprecedented challenges and then disruptions.”

In a statement to NPR before the election, Jamal Brown, the Biden campaign’s national press secretary, said that Biden “knows the critical importance of the census and how it touches every aspect of American life, from federal investments around health care, housing, and education, to how states redistrict and draw their congressional boundaries.”

Among the members of Biden’s transition agency review team for the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, are two census watchers who have been calling for more transparency as the bureau prepares to release the 2020 census results. They include Nancy Potok — who, during the Obama administration, served as a deputy director at the bureau and was later appointed to be the chief statistician within the White House Office of Management and Budget — and Denice Ross, a senior fellow with the National Conference on Citizenship who worked on data projects and policy in the Obama administration as a presidential innovation fellow and an adviser at OMB.

But before Biden officials can make any changes, there are some key questions about the census for the courts and Congress to answer in the final weeks of the Trump administration.

Can Trump change who is counted in numbers that determine House seats and the next Electoral College map?

The Supreme Court is expected to weigh in with its answer to that question after hearing oral arguments on Nov. 30.

So far, three lower courts have rejected the presidential memo Trump issued in July that calls for an unprecedented change — the exclusion of unauthorized immigrants from the census numbers used for determining each state’s share of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as each state’s Electoral College votes.

All of those three-judge panels unanimously found that carrying out the memo would violate a federal law requiring the president to deliver a report to Congress of “the whole number of persons in each State” as determined by the census. One of those panels also ruled that it would go against the 14th Amendment.

The Trump administration has been pushing the high court to rule before Dec. 31. That’s the legal deadline for the commerce secretary, who oversees the bureau, to give the president the first set of census results, which Trump wants to alter.

But it remains unclear, given all of the schedule changes the Trump administration has made, whether the Census Bureau can meet the Dec. 31 deadline and how that would affect the president’s ability to report numbers to Congress by Jan. 10. Any delays that push key steps in the congressional reapportionment process past the Jan. 20 inauguration could strip Trump of control over the count.

Last month, the bureau’s top career official in charge of the census, Al Fontenot, said the agency hasn’t committed to when it will wrap up processing and checking all of the information it has collected.

“We are trying to maintain the flexibility to get the job done in a quality way,” Fontenot said during a news briefing.

Justice Department attorneys say the administration hasn’t finalized how to accurately count unauthorized immigrants, aside from those in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers, in order to exclude them from the apportionment numbers.

In July, Biden condemned Trump’s memo in a tweet, writing: “We won’t let him deny communities the funding and representation they deserve. Because in America, everyone counts.”

But Brown, the Biden campaign spokesperson, has not responded to NPR’s question about what the Biden administration would do if, before leaving office, Trump attempted to remove unauthorized immigrants from the apportionment numbers before giving them to Congress.

If Trump did that, it is also unclear whether the clerk of the House, which will remain under Democratic control, would certify those numbers.

Will Congress extend legal deadlines for reporting census results to allow for more quality checks?

That question has been hanging over the census since April, when the Trump administration first proposed four-month extensions to the legal deadlines for reporting the apportionment counts and redistricting data, which are due to the states by March 31.

Publicly backed at the time by Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Census Bureau, career officials at the bureau said that because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, they needed more time to tally the country’s residents and run quality checks on the results.

But the administration made an about-face in July and began pushing to end counting early, sticking with the original reporting schedule. The Supreme Court ultimately allowed the administration to cut counting short, leaving open the possibility for Trump to control the apportionment numbers even without winning reelection.

Faced with a shortened window for counting in their states, some Republican lawmakers in Congress began publicly supporting the Democratic-led push for deadline extensions.

But now that counting has stopped, it’s unclear if there’s enough bipartisan support for deadline extensions to be passed.

The bureau has already scaled back some quality checks, risking “serious errors,” career officials warned, that they may not have time to fix.

Some census advocates — including Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — are calling for Congress to pass deadline extensions during the lame-duck session to help ensure that the bureau has enough time to address any major errors it finds in the census results before they’re used to reapportion House seats.

“I think waiting until a new administration and new Congress to act would be too late for the census,” Gupta, a former Obama administration official, says. “A new administration and new Congress really would be in uncharted territory that would take time to navigate, conceivably creating a constitutional crisis that could be avoided if Congress gives the Census Bureau the time that it needs and the time that it asked for.”

Source: The Census Is Not Over: What’s Ahead During The Biden Transition

US Census Bureau Head: No Advance Warning Over Citizenship Count

Incompetence or deliberate disfunction:

The U.S. Census Bureau director testified Wednesday that he was not given advance notification about an order by the Trump administration that called for undocumented immigrants to be excluded from the national census.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order earlier this month in which he argued that having people who are in the country illegally affect representation in Congress “would be a perversion of our democratic principles.”

Steven Dillingham was called before the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee to discuss the order affecting the 2020 census, the once-a-decade count of every person living in the United States and its five territories.

The census has vast implications for the country. The results are used to decide how many congressional seats each state gets, as well as the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending.

Dillingham told lawmakers that he did not know if any Census Bureau staff were involved in drafting the order, which has been called unconstitutional by civil rights groups.

The Democrats who chair the House Oversight Committee said Trump’s order went against prior assurances from administration officials who pledged at earlier hearings to conduct a complete count that includes everyone residing in the United States.

But Republicans said the order was constitutional, saying the president’s order applied only to redrawing the congressional districts, not the count or how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed.

The Census Bureau was forced to suspend field operations in March and April because of the coronavirus pandemic. The deadline for finishing the count was pushed from July 31 to October 31.

Dillingham also offered in his testimony that despite the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 census self-response has been a “tremendous success.”

“We are now at almost 63 percent, with more than 92 million households counted. About 80 percent have chosen to respond using the internet. Our response system has not had a single minute of downtime since we first invited people to respond online, beginning in March,” he said.

Source: US Census Bureau Head: No Advance Warning Over Citizenship Count

Trump gives away the game on his census citizenship gambit


The Supreme Court was confronted with a difficult question in the past year. The Trump administration wanted to put a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, and its stated reason was to enforce the Voting Rights Act. But opponents argued this was, in fact, a thinly veiled partisan gambit to draw more GOP-friendly districts.

The court issued a remarkable rebuke of the Trump administration’s stated reason. And now, the Trump administration is pretty much acknowledging its motivation was precisely what its critics claimed.

President Trump on Tuesday signed a memorandum stating that undocumented immigrants should not be included as part of the next process of apportionment — i.e., the doling out of congressional districts that follows every census. Such a move would reduce the representation of states (many of them blue) with higher undocumented populations.

Apportionment has never been handled like this, and there are major questions about both the legality and practicality of the memorandum.

The Constitution states that congressional districts must be drawn according to “the whole number of persons.” And federal courts have long ruled that congressional districts must be drawn according to total population. But there has been some ambiguity in how the Supreme Court has decided this question. And Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. has indicatedthat perhaps states might be allowed to draw their legislative districts according to citizen voting-age population. At the least, the Trump administration is putting all of that to the test.

Beyond that, it’s not clear how this will be executed. Given that the Supreme Court struck down the citizenship question, how is the federal government to even determine which people are citizens? Even if the idea passes constitutional and legal muster, actually doing what the memorandum says is another matter entirely.

But those two very important questions aside, there’s the matter of what this says about the Trump administration’s true intent. The Supreme Court ruled in the past year that the Trump administration’s stated reason — the Voting Rights Act — “seems to have been contrived” and that officials such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross seemed to invent a justification for something they planned to do very early in the Trump presidency.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. strongly rebuked Ross and the administration, saying, “What was provided here [as a justification] was more of a distraction.”

Absent from the Trump administration’s legal defense was any indication that this was part of an effort geared toward apportionment or redistricting — the latter being the decennial drawing of new districts to reflect population shifts.

But it was part of the opposition’s case. Critics in the past year pointed to a previously unpublished 2015 presentation from the late GOP redistricting expert Tom Hofeller, which stated that using citizenship data in a state such as Texas “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites” by diluting the influence of Democratic-leaning Hispanics. The critics argued that the Justice Department’s case for a census citizenship question closely mirrored Hofeller’s 2015 study, reinforcing the political motivations of the move.

And Trump himself seemed to affirm that aim. As the case was progressing, the president blurted out that, “Number one, you need it for Congress — you need it for Congress for districting.”

This ran afoul of the Supreme Court defense offered by the Trump administration, led by then-Solicitor General Noel Francisco. Francisco said at the time that Ross “did not rely on that rationale in his decisional memorandum.” Francisco added: “Instead, he relied on DOJ’s explanation … that citizenship data from the [American Community Survey] has substantial limitations.”

In other words, the defense was that we needed the citizenship question because the more-frequent but less-robust American Community Survey couldn’t provide totally accurate citizenship data — not because of a need for apportionment or redistricting data.

Both before and since then, the administration hasn’t done much of anything to reinforce its claimed desire to enforce or bolster the Voting Rights Act. But it has now confirmed that it would very much like to use citizenship data to award congressional districts — just as its critics claimed (and it denied) was its true aim.

Trump’s move Tuesday suggests his comments were more than just a coincidence — and that his administration’s disavowals of this alleged goal were dishonest, at best.

Source: Trump gives away the game on his census citizenship gambit

With No Citizenship Question, Trump Officials Turn To Records

And so it continues, driven by political and partisan considerations:

You will not find a citizenship question on the 2020 census forms.

But in the months since federal courts permanently blocked the Trump administration from asking the hotly-contested question for this year’s national head count, the administration has been pushing ahead with a backup plan — amassing government records to try to determine the U.S. citizenship status of every adult living in the country.

Information from the U.S. Army, federal prisons and the Department of the Interior’s law enforcement system are among the newly disclosed batch of records the Census Bureau says it is using to comply with President Trump’s executive order for citizenship data, according to a memo the bureau quietly posted on its website earlier this month.

Previously released government documents have confirmed the bureau is also compiling IRS tax forms and data from Medicare and Medicaid, as well as records from the Department of Homeland Security, Social Security Administration, and State Department. The bureau has also asked states to share their driver’s license records, and in November, Nebraska’s Department of Motor Vehicles signed an agreement to turn over monthly data about license and ID card holders’ citizenship status, names, addresses, dates of birth, sex, race and eye color.

Put together, these records could be used to yield data that could radically change political mapmaking and shift the balance of political power across the U.S. over the next decade.

Instead of drawing voting districts based on the number of overall residents in an area, the citizenship data the Trump administration wants created — detailed down to the level of a census block — may allow mapmakers to redistrict using the number of citizens old enough to vote. A GOP strategist concluded that excluding U.S. citizens under the age of 18 and noncitizens, both those lawfully and unlawfully in the country, from the numbers used to remake political maps would be “advantageous to Republicans & Non-Hispanic Whites.”

That method of redistricting was one of the main uses of the data outlined in Trump’s executive order, which also noted that the information could help the government “generate a more reliable count of the unauthorized alien population in the country.”

Last year, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced in the White House Rose Garden that the citizenship data “may be relevant” in an ongoing federal lawsuit the state of Alabama and Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from that state, has filed against the Census Bureau to get unauthorized immigrants excluded from the 2020 census numbers used to redistribute congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states.

The coronavirus outbreak and the changes it’s forced upon the bureau’s 2020 census plans have interrupted the agency’s work on the citizenship data. Last month, the bureau said in a regulatory document that it plans to announce its final plans for citizenship data by Oct. 31.

The pandemic-related delays have led the bureau to ask Congress to push back by four months the legal deadlines for delivering the results of the 2020 census, including redistricting data the bureau now would like to provide to the states by the end of July 2021.

If a new law is passed that allows for that extension, the bureau is also expecting to release the citizenship data as ordered by Trump by July 31, 2021, James Whitehorne, the head of the Census Bureau’s redistricting and voting rights data office, told redistricting officials last month during a webinar organized by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The House Democrats’ new coronavirus relief bill does allow for a deadline extension for redistricting data from the 2020 census. But the bill — which is not expected to get support from the Republican-controlled Senate — also includes a provision that would stop the efforts to create the citizenship data requested by the Trump administration.

Asked how the more recently disclosed sources of records are helping the Census Bureau’s researchers develop citizenship data, the bureau’s public information office directed NPR to slides the agency’s officials presented last year that said they help researchers link records about the same individual and determine whether that person is a U.S. citizen.

The Census Bureau is obtaining these records through sharing agreements negotiated with the other agencies, and the bureau has said the records are “stripped of any personal identifiable information and are used for statistical purposes only.”

“They cannot be shared in identifiable form with any other government agency or the public,” the bureau emphasized in a technical document on its webpage about the citizenship data.

Still, Latinx community groups in Arizona and Texas represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC are trying to stop the release of the citizenship data with a federal lawsuit against the administration. The challengers contend the production of the data is part of a conspiracy to prevent Latinos, noncitizens and other immigrants from receiving fair political representation.

In response to the Census Bureau’s announcement last month about delaying its field operations for the 2020 census, Thomas Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, called continued work on citizenship data a “dangerous diversion from the necessity of concentrating on Census 2020 in the Bureau and from accomplishing pandemic recovery efforts in other federal and state agencies.”

Amy O’Hara, who previously led the Census Bureau’s Center for Administrative Records Research and Applications, has also warned about the dangers of directing limited resources during the pandemic to creating more detailed citizen voting age population data, also known as CVAP.

“The sources for CVAP are mostly new to the Census Bureau, requiring more effort to understand the files and how to appropriately link it with other data,” O’Hara, who is now a research professor at Georgetown University’s Massive Data Institute, says in an email. “This competes with staff time for planned uses of administrative data, and with emerging needs during the pandemic, like correctly counting college students.”

Still, the citizenship data could be useful to at least one state.

Missouri state lawmakers approved a resolution last week that includes a ballot initiative that would require the state’s house and senate districts to be drawn “on the basis of one person, one vote.”

Critics of the proposed constitutional amendment worry that it could lead to redistricting based on the number of citizens old enough to vote rather than of all residents, including children.

“The Supreme Court held in 2016 that it is constitutional to draw districts on the basis of total population, so that every district has the same number of people,” explains Michael Li, a redistricting expert who is a senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, in an email. “But the court left open the question of whether it might also be constitutional to use another population basis, such as eligible voters. That open question could be one of the big fights of this decade.”

Source: With No Citizenship Question, Trump Officials Turn To Records

How Census Is Building a Citizenship Database Covering Everyone Living in the U.S.

Interesting read on how the US Census bureau is working on getting greater precision on citizenship using statistical modelling. Whether this will provide greater precision than the American Community Survey remains to be seen, as well as protections to ensure privacy and anonymization:

While the 2020 decennial count is underway, the Census Bureau is working on a separate effort to identify the percentage of the U.S. population that has legal citizenship. The result will be a Census-owned database of every person living in the U.S. with a statistical “citizenship estimate” linked to each individual.

The Trump administration initially pushed to include a citizenship question on the 2020 survey of America. However, in June of last year, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to prevent the administration from asking the question, citing poor justification for its inclusion.

A month after the ruling, President Trump signed Executive Order 13880, requiring the bureau to produce data on the citizen voting-age population, or CVAP, by the end of March 2021, and mandating relevant agencies share databases to help Census achieve that end.

Next year, the bureau will release a publicly-available statistical modeling of citizen and non-citizen populations throughout the country, anonymized using a cutting-edge masking system. The effort will also create a dataset with a citizenship estimate for every person in the U.S., which—by law and by practice—should never be seen outside of the Census Bureau.

In an internal document obtained by Nextgov, bureau officials note the Census Unedited File—which is used to determine apportionments, including congressional representatives—will not contain any citizenship data. Instead, the bureau will create a separate micro-data file, or MDF, with the best citizenship estimate associated with each census respondent.

That micro-data file, along with the Census Edited File—an updated version of the CUF that corrects and backfills missing information—will be put through the 2020 Disclosure Avoidance System, “which will do the final record linkage and place a confidentiality protected citizenship variable on the same MDF as will be used to produce the redistricting data,” according to the documents.

While the citizenship status of individuals will not be made public, Census will be publishing CVAP tables that break down citizenship estimates at the block level—the most granular level of census data. Those tables are scheduled for release by March 31, 2021.

However, keeping that amount of public data anonymized is no simple thing. With surprisingly few bits of correlated data, a once-anonymous person can easily be identified. This becomes much easier when coupled with information publicly available on the internet, such as social media profiles.

To prevent criminals and other malicious actors from reverse engineering identities, Census is employing a new disclosure avoidance system for all 2020 census data shared publicly.

“Our decision to deploy a modernized disclosure avoidance system for the 2020 census was driven by research showing that methods we used to protect the 2010 census and earlier statistics can no longer adequately defend against today’s privacy threats,” John Abowd, Census’ associate director for research and methodology and chief scientist, and Victoria Velkoff, chief of the American Community Survey Office, wrote in an October 2019 blog post explaining the new system developed by cryptographers and data scientists.

The new differential privacy system injects “noise” into the datasets by using an algorithm that makes targeted changes to the data to prevent outside actors—malicious or otherwise—from reverse engineering identities.

Census has been using various forms of differential privacy—also known as formal privacy—since 2008, though never at the scale it will be used for on 2020 census data. In the past, Census only added uncertainty to select statistics with a high risk for deanonymization to avoid adding so much noise that the statistics become unreliable.

For the coming count, uncertainty will be added to entire published datasets using state-of-the-art mathematical models.

“The new method allows us to precisely control the amount of uncertainty that we add according to privacy requirements,” Abowd and Velkoff wrote. “And, by documenting the properties of this uncertainty, we can help data users determine if published estimates are sufficiently accurate for their specific applications. In this manner, we can determine the data’s ‘fitness for use.’”

With the public datasets anonymized, it will be up to Census to protect the raw data.

While the disclosure avoidance system is designed to ensure personal data remains anonymous, Robert Groves, provost of Georgetown University, who led the Census Bureau during the 2010 decennial count, said two things will ensure the raw, nonanonymized database is never used to target individuals: law and culture.

Groves, in an interview with Nextgov after reviewing the documents, cited a legal provision known as “functional separation.”

“Once you enter a statistical agency environment, it’s a one-way street,” he explained. “As soon as that Homeland Security dataset enters behind the firewall of Census, the laws of Census apply. It’s no longer a Homeland Security dataset, in a sense. It is controlled by the Census Bureau. And, under the Title 13 law, it is absolutely crystal clear that the combined dataset never exits Census with individual person records on it. Only statistics can exit.”

That protection extends to the highest levels.

“Even if it’s requested by the president, it’s absolutely illegal,” Groves confirmed when asked. “And even if it were an executive order directing Census to do this, the statute would trump the order.”

Beyond the law, Groves said the culture of statisticians and public servants working at the Census Bureau would make it almost impossible for the data to leak out unnoticed.

“If there’s anything I believe most strongly, it’s if there’s any illegal act that is proposed or promulgated, the staff at the Census Bureau would call [reporters] within 30 seconds. They are devoted to supplying the country statistical information under the law,” he said, adding that that devotion is rooted in necessity.

“The reason those laws exist is if individual records were freely given for enforcement procedures from the decennial census, then the cooperation from the public with the census is decimated,” Groves said. “These statistical agencies work with a social confidence—a trust with the public that the laws will be followed—and the laws were established to enhance that trust.”

Estimating Citizenship

While the Census Bureau won’t be able to ask each individual in the U.S. about their citizenship status, leveraging access to data held by other agencies will enable statisticians to match census respondents with information they have shared with the government to build a “best citizenship” estimate for each individual.

The bureau has been working on the algorithm to produce that estimate since April 2018 and planned to finalize the “final specifications and modeling details” before the end of March, according to an internal document.

The bureau did not respond to repeated requests for comments and updates on the status of that work or a comprehensive breakdown of which federal databases are actively being shared for this work.

However, the document offers a look into the main databases being used and the additional data sources most likely to be tapped.

Bureau officials believe about 90% of the U.S. population will be covered by data from two sources: the Social Security Administration’s Numerical Identification System, or Numident, which stores Social Security numbers; and, the IRS’ Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or ITINs, which are used as a substitute for those without Social Security numbers. Approximately 94% of SSN records include citizenship information.

However, if officials determine these sources are not sufficient, agencies control a host of other datasets that could be added to the mix, including databases managed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the departments of State and Housing and Urban Development, and Homeland Security Department components like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In the briefing document, Census officials said additional data from Homeland Security, State and other departments “are expected to provide the [personally identifiable information] that enables record linkage for much of the balance of the resident population.” However, that comes with a caveat: “Provided that the PII on the 2020 Census is as reliable as it was in 2010.”

DHS released a privacy impact statement in December outlining how it would share information with Census, though bureau officials did not respond to requests for confirmation that the DHS databases have been accessed or integrated into the citizenship estimates.

That data will be quantified using the finalized algorithm to produce a best estimate for citizenship.

“For a single person, they’ll collect multiple data sources on citizenship. Inevitably, those sources won’t agree. Then, the question is what do you do to estimate the best response for citizenship for that particular person. They will estimate that with modeling across the various databases,” Groves said. “They’ll also use the same sort of model if, despite all their efforts, for you they can’t find a record that you’re a citizen or you’re not a citizen, they will impute your citizenship to that model.”

Groves said we won’t know how accurate those estimates are until well after the fact.

“No one’s ever done this before,” he said. “No one, at this point, I think it’s fair to say, knows what the quality of the resulting estimates will be. We just don’t know that. We’ll know it after this, through evaluation studies. But this is just a good-faith statistical effort.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of track record on this,” he added. “These datasets, to my knowledge, have never been assembled the way they’re trying to assemble them.”

Source: How Census Is Building a Citizenship Database Covering Everyone Living in the U.S.

At Census Time, Asian Americans Again Confront the Question of Who ‘Counts’ as Asian. Here’s How the Answer Got So Complicated

Of interest. Canadian visible minority groups have three Asian groups: East Asian, South Asian and West Asian, in addition to Korean and Japanese.

With the U.S. Census online form set to go live starting March 12, Americans will soon get the once-in-a-decade opportunity to stand up and be counted. But while many of the questions on the Census may seem simple — name or date of birth — at least one is more complicated: race.

For many Asian Americans, who are the least likely among ethnic groups to fill out the Census, this can be especially true. The Census Bureau defines a person of the Asian race as “having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.”

That means, according to the Pew Research Center, that the Census definition of “Asian” — the fastest growing American population — covers more than 20 ethnicities and 20 million citizens in the United States.

But American culture tends not to think of all regions in Asia as equally Asian. A quick Google search of “Asian food nearby” is likely to call up Chinese or Japanese restaurants, but not Indian or Filipino. Years after someone posted a thread on College Confidential, a popular college admissions forum, titled “Do Indians count as Asians?” the SAT in 2016 tweaked its race categories, explaining to test-takers that “Asian” did include “Indian subcontinent and Philippines origin.”

This issue even made its way to the 2020 Presidential race: during his run for the Democratic nomination, Andrew Yang, who is of Taiwanese descent, was frequently framed by the media and his own campaign as the Asian candidate, despite his rival Kamala Harris having Indian heritage. In addition, while Tulsi Gabbard’s Samoan heritage might put her in a different category on the Census now, before 2000, the Census put “Asian” and “Pacific Islander” together in the same broader category.

“My Asian-ness is kind of obvious in a way that might not be true of Kamala or even Tulsi,” Yang said. “That’s not a choice. It’s just a fairly evident reality.”

But the history of Asian identity in the U.S. shows that what Yang asserted is self-evident today could perhaps have evolved differently — and that, as the U.S. counts its population, the result of that evolution can have serious consequences.

Inventing “Asian American”

The boundary between Asia and Europe has no official line, so the definition of “Asian” may include Central Asians, East Asians, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, Southeast Asians and South Asians, as well as West Asians — whom the Census counts as white Middle Easterners and may not self-identify as Asian. But today’s common American usage of the term is a relatively recent phenomenon, spiking in popularity in the United States after World War II.

The Corpus of Historical American English shows less than one appearance of “Asian” per million words in American texts from 1810 through the 1940s, but that number rose to nearly 15 mentions per million words in the 1950s. A similar spike can be seen in British English.

At the time of this rise, in the U.S., contact with Asian cultures was predominantly via East Asian countries. “The U.S. was at war with Japan, then Korea, then Vietnam, and has occupied other parts,” explains linguist Lynne Murphy. In addition, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 made way for large-scale immigration from Asia to the U.S.

It’s easy to see how important that contact was. After all, in the U.K., where the breakup of the British Empire contributed to a wave of immigration from South Asia in the mid-20th century, “Asian” has a different meaning. In The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English, Murphy writes about a British journalist whose use of the word “means ‘from the Indian subcontinent,’ and so when he wants to talk about people from China, Korea, or Japan, he [says] east Asians. In America, the situation is just the opposite: say Asian and people assume ‘east Asian.’ When people mean ‘south Asian,’ they’ll probably say Indian or maybe South Asian.”

As civil rights movements swept the United States in the 1960s and ‘70s, Asian populations likewise seized the moment to agitate for their rights. The term “Asian American” emerged from student activists inspired by those movements and was purposefully broad. Given that their numbers individually were much smaller than other race-based movements, “it was a moment in which Chinese American, Filipino American, Japanese American activists came together and said, ‘You know, let’s unite under this umbrella of Asian American,’” explains Anthony Ocampo, a sociologist at Cal Poly Pomona. The movement soon expanded to include South-Asian Americans, Korean Americans and Vietnamese Americans.

As Asian Americans worked for increased visibility, “Asian” and “Asian American” became more general ways of talking about people while avoiding other terms that were incorrect or problematic, like Oriental, which was prominent before the ‘50s, Murphy notes. But it wasn’t long before the term’s meaning narrowed, increasingly coming to apply only to the most visible subgroups.

Eventually, the term “Asian” came to be associated with “what you look like, how your eyes are shaped, your skin tone and your hair texture,” says Ocampo. “When people hear the word ‘Asian,’ they think of certain types of last names that are aligned with Chinese, Korean or Japanese folks.”

A 2016 study done by the National Asian American Survey found that 42% of white Americans believed that Indians are “not likely to be” Asian or Asian American, with 45% believing that Pakistanis “not likely to be” Asian or Asian American. In addition, 27% of Asian Americans believed that Pakistani people are “not likely to be” Asian or Asian American with 15% reporting that Indians are “not likely to be” either. “The question of Asian American identity is contested, with South Asian groups (Indians and Pakistanis) finding it more challenging for American society to view them as Asian American,” concluded the researchers.

A narrow vision

According to the Pew Research Center, the very first U.S. Census in 1790 only had three categories: “Free white males, Free white females,” “All other free persons,” and “Slaves.” It took nearly a century, until 1870, for a category to be added for people of Asian descent. That category was simply called “Chinese.” In 1890, the Census Bureau added “Japanese,” followed by “Other” in 1910 (which primarily referred to people of Korean, Filipino and Indian descent), and “Filipino,” “Korean,” and “Hindu” (referring to Indians regardless of religion) in 1920.

People were allowed to choose their own race from 1960 onward, and this year’s Census will have the same categories for people of Asian descent it used in 2010: “Chinese,” “Japanese,” “Filipino,” “Korean,” “Asian Indian,” “Vietnamese,” and “Other Asian.”

As straightforward as that list may sound, question of who “counts” as Asian clearly endures, and many are now speaking up about why it matters.

“The narrative defines who gets the already few limited resources and airtime that are afforded to Asian Americans,” says Ocampo. For example, discussion of Asian representation in film centers mainly on films with East Asian characters, like Parasite, The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians. “I find that Black Asians are nearly entirely erased from the convo of being Asian. Like, I’m not even allowed to audition for Asian roles because Hollywood’s vision of ‘Asian’ is just East Asian,” tweeted actress Asia Jackson.

That feeling can be particularly relevant when it comes to checking a box on a form like the Census. Research into what’s known as “social identity threat” has shown that asking people about their identity can make them doubt their social belonging, which can make people doubt their abilities in areas that have nothing to do with race. “Anything that makes you conscious of your identity in a way that is confusing or upsetting or makes things high-stakes for you in some way can represent a problem,” explains Joshua Aronson, a professor of applied psychology at New York University.

Under-representation on the Census can lead to the misallocation of federal resources and a weak understanding of states’ needs, as the population tally plays a major role in deciding on political issues and funding nationwide. The division of seats in Congress and state legislatures is also affected by Census data.

So why are Asian Americans, even today, relatively less likely to fill out the Census?

Along with questioning the safety of offering up personal information to the government — perhaps due to the fact that the government also used Census data to round up people of Japanese descent for imprisonment in camps during World War II — language barriers, feelings of neglect and lack of familiarity with the Census all play a part in discouraging Asian Americans from participating, according to the New York Times. One study showed that Asian Americans are more likely than other groups to worry that their answers would be “used against” them.

As part of an effort to address the situation, volunteers from civic organizations are canvassing to educate Asian populations about the Census and appease any fears. And, in January, the Census Bureau began rolling out ads in Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Tagalog and Vietnamese. But last July, Representative Grace Meng of New York sent a letter to Steven Dillingham, the director of the Census Bureau, urging him to extend that outreach to the South Asian community. “I’m shocked that the Census Bureau failed to include the South Asian community in its outreach leading up to the 2020 Decennial Census,” she wrote. Dillingham wrote back, in a letter shared with TIME, saying that the Census Bureau is in fact trying to expand the campaign to include content produced in South Asian languages.

Whether that outreach made a difference — and whether it worked among allAsian Americans, or just some — won’t be known until after the Census is done.

For demographers, there is some benefit to seeing each subset of “Asian” as separate: “Good data should always be as disaggregated as possible,” says Lakshmi Sridaran, executive director at South Asian Americans Leading Together. “To understand the nuances within the Asian American community, it does matter if somebody is a Pacific Islander, Southeast Asian, East Asian, etc. In terms of how resources get allocated for diversity and hiring, it is actually very critical to meet the needs of those communities, which can be very different.”

However, as the original Asian American activists of the mid-20th century knew, there’s also power in banding together. According to Sridaran, the question for activists today should be “how we can leverage the power of coming together under that broader identity, but also uplift those who often get erased or sidelined.”

Source: At Census Time, Asian Americans Again Confront the Question of Who ‘Counts’ as Asian. Here’s How the Answer Got So Complicated

Caribbean immigrants finally get to say where they’re from in Census. They aren’t alone

Ethnic ancestry has been in the Canadian census for a long time:

When the U.S. Census rolls out on March 12, Caribbean immigrants like Felicia Persaud will get to do something many have wanted to do ever since they filled out their first questionnaire: identify themselves beyond race.

The 2020 Census will mark two firsts: people will be able to primarily fill out online, and will be able to note their ethnic identity or nation of origin while still choosing their race.

“We can actually begin to tell our story in some numbers, which we are not able to do right now, at all. It’s just sort of a guesstimate,” said Persaud, a Plantation resident and Caribbean activist who in 2008 launched CaribID 2010, a lobbying effort to get Congress to add a special Caribbean or West Indian category on the census.

Caribbean immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica and elsewhere have long argued that their communities — often lumped in with African Americans — were under-counted and much more diverse than what was being reflected in the Census. The community’s inability to provide a true count has affected everything from the power of its vote, to organizations’ and businesses’ ability to get sponsorship, advertising or contracts from corporations, Caribbean nationals have noted over the years.

“They dismiss you and say, ‘You’re too small; you’re not part of the mainstream; we can’t tell your numbers,’ “ said Persaud, speaking from personal experience as a Guyanese-born media entrepreneur and founder of Invest Caribbean Now, which connects investors with opportunities in the region. “It leaves us completely disrespected; completely ignored and dismissed.

“You feel it all of the time. You see it in this presidential debate and in every election cycle,” she added. “You never hear anything about the Caribbean voter. You hear consistently about the black voter. But you never hear anything about us at all until [the candidates] come to Florida and decide they need to have these Caribbean people come and join us.”

South Florida is home to one of the fastest growing Caribbean-American populations in the United States. The non-Hispanic Caribbean population is estimated at 861,560 in Miami-Dade County, with Haitians leading the growth followed by Jamaicans, according to the 2017 American Community Survey, the questionnaire run by the U.S. Census Bureau. In Broward County, the estimate is 265,278, with Jamaicans slightly ahead of Haitians, 86,845 to 80,201, respectively.

Further north in Palm Beach County, the Caribbean community’s 150,343 nationals are mostly from Haiti, with 70,197, followed by Jamaicans at 24,212.

“I am hoping that Caribbean nationals will identify themselves,” said Broward County Mayor Dale Holness, the first Jamaican-American to hold the position. “The significance is that we will be counted and recognized as a force that’s here and our numbers will show what we do. It will benefit us to the extent that entities looking to see who we are and what we are about, will be able to then use those numbers to recognize the contributions we’re making to build this great nation.”

Though the Census Bureau first began allowing individuals to self-identify more than one race in its 2000 survey, the fight to get self-identification on ethnicity, similar to what Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans have been able to do since the 1970 Census, did not come easy.

Throughout their push, Caribbean activists were met with angst and resistance, especially from African Americans. Vocal black activists argued that a separate non-Hispanic Caribbean category would dilute the black community’s numbers and the amount of federal funds they may be entitled to based on Census data, which is collected every 10 years.

“That has not really been the case because Caribbean nationals are not just black,” Persaud said. “There are a whole lot of cultural and mix up that goes on there and the only thing that brings us together is when we say, ‘We are from the Caribbean,’ whether you’re from Haiti, or Guyana or Jamaica.“

The new write-in question, number 9 on the 2020 Census form, which is opened to everyone, is a compromise and was made administratively by the Census Bureau.

“There were a whole lot of problems we had to face in this lobbying effort,” Persaud said. “So we decided we were going to settle for this, and we would accept this. And so this form is coded to read those ancestries or nationalities that are written in there.

“We were just happy to be able to get something to start, especially in this administration, because we weren’t sure it was even going to happen even though the national [Census] committee had approved the form in 2018.”

From concerns about the digital roll-out to questions about a potential under-count, this year’s constitutionally mandated count has not been immune from controversy.

Lawsuits erupted last year when the Trump administration proposed asking, “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” on the survey. Community leaders and immigration activists from around the United States argued that allowing the question would lead to an inaccurate count.

In June 2019, the Supreme Court decided not to allow the citizenship question on the form, a decision that was consistent with the recommendations of every U.S. secretary of commerce dating back to 1950.

Now with the Census just days away — households will begin receiving a card on March 12 inviting them to go online or to call a number with 13 languages available to fill out the form — activists and organizations are pushing people to “stand up and be counted.”

“It’s intense this year and our push is to get people to complete the Census. We are not going to be picky,” said Gepsie Metellus, the executive director of Sant La Neighborhood Center, which provides social services to the Haitian-American community in Miami. “Given the president’s comments and statements, policies and tactics, what we are simply focused on is getting people to count and to count everyone in their household.”

Still, Gepsie, an early supporter of the CaribID 2010 campaign, applauds this year’s write-in opportunity.

“It’s about ensuring that we have a decent texture of the Haitian communities throughout the United States, ensuring that bilingual education and resources are properly allocated, and having an idea how many people are likely to become citizens after they pass their five-year requirements,” she said. “All of these resources’ implications have been at the basis for our push to get people to identify themselves.”

In addition to being used to allocate an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal funding based on states’ population counts, Census data is used to redraw voting districts and redistribute congressional seats and votes in the Electoral College.

Households that fail to fill out their forms will receive two additional reminders. Those who still fail to respond will receive a paper form in the mail they can fill out with pen or pencil. By mid-May, volunteers will also be fanning out to collect data.

“Right now, we want people to go online. They can either do it from their smart phone, tablet or laptop,” said Andrea Robinson, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau Atlanta region. “We have governments that will also have phone banks, either at their offices or libraries. We are partnering with different civic organizations, churches and community leaders, ministers, priests, imams , rabbis, a host of people who have agreed to help us to make it as easy as possible.”

After years of being in the “other category,” when filling out the form, Persaud, who is black and Asian, said she is looking forward to for the first time also claiming her other identity. “I am Guyanese. That’s my ancestry and nationality.“

Source: Caribbean immigrants finally get to say where they’re from in Census. They aren’t alone