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

America’s census looks out of date in the age of big data

Similar issues with the Canadian census, no doubt, and the debate over StatsCan accessing bank financial data is an illustration of the potential and the privacy and political roadblocks ( › news › statistics-canada-pause-plan-obtain-banking-re…Statistics Canada hits pause on plan to obtain banking …):

A DOG-SLED or a snowmobile is the surest way to reach Toksook Bay in rural Alaska, where Steven Dillingham, the director of America’s census bureau, will arrive to count the first people in the country’s decennial population survey on January 21st. The task should not take long—there were only 590 villagers at the last count, in 2010—but it marks the beginning of a colossal undertaking. Everyone living in America will be asked about their age, sex, ethnicity and residence over the coming months (and some will be asked much more besides).

This census has already proved unusually incendiary. An attempt by President Donald Trump to include a question on citizenship, which might have discouraged undocumented immigrants from responding, was thwarted by the Supreme Court. His administration has also been accused in two lawsuits of underfunding the census, thus increasing the likelihood that minorities and vulnerable people, such as the homeless, will be miscounted.

ICYMI USA: Not on form, but brawl over citizenship question continues

We shall see the net result of these efforts on census participation once the Census is complete and analysed:

The U.S. Supreme Court decided a citizenship question won’t be on this spring’s census form, but that doesn’t mean the fight over it has ended in courtrooms across the country.

In Maryland, civil rights groups are trying to block an order from President Donald Trump to gather citizenship data through administrative records. In New York, other civil rights groups are seeking sanctions against Trump administration attorneys for not turning over documents related to the citizenship question’s origins. Democratic lawmakers in the District of Columbia are fighting for similar documents, and Alabama officials are suing the Census Bureau to keep immigrants living in the country illegally from being counted during the process that determines the number of congressional seats each state gets.

All of the lawsuits touch on whether the number of citizens, instead of the total population, will be used for redistricting or apportionment — the process of divvying up congressional seats among the states after the 2020 census. Opponents say doing so would dilute the influence of minorities and Democrats, which they argue was the true intent of the Trump administration’s desire to add a citizenship question in the first place.

The U.S. Constitution specifies that congressional districts should be based on how many people — not citizens — live there. But the legal requirements are murkier for state legislative districts.

Source: Not on form, but brawl over citizenship question continues

Homeland Security to share citizenship data with Census Bureau

Not surprising and there will certainly be some data issues as flagged, one’s that the administration will of course dismiss given the intent is more to disenfranchise minority voters and reduce the population count of states with higher numbers of immigrants (legal and other):

The Department of Homeland Security is agreeing to share citizenship information with the U.S. Census Bureau as part of President Donald Trump’s order to collect data on who is a citizen following the Supreme Court’s rejection of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form.

Trump’s order is being challenged in federal court, but meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security two weeks ago announced the agreement in a report. It said the agency would share administrative records to help the Census Bureau determine the number of citizens and non-citizens in the U.S., as well as the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

Information to be shared includes personally identifiable data, the Homeland Security document says. Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from releasing personally identifiable data, and the bureau says in its fact-sheet on privacy, “Your answers can only be used to produce statistics — they cannot be used against you in any way.”

The Census Bureau has promised the data will be kept for no more than two years, and will then be destroyed, according to the agreement. The data will be used to help the Census Bureau create a model estimating the likelihood that each person in the U.S. is a citizen, non-citizen or an immigrant in the country without legal permission.

Among the information Homeland Security will provide is a person’s alien identification number, country of birth and date of naturalization or naturalization application. The department is awaiting word on whether it will be allowed to release information on asylum and refugee applicants, which typically is prohibited from being disclosed.

Because a person’s citizenship status can change often over time, the citizenship data provided by Homeland Security will likely be inaccurate, said Andrea Senteno, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the civil rights groups challenging Trump’s order in federal court in Maryland.

“The information out there over whether someone is a non-citizen or what type of immigrant status they may be is going to have a lot of holes in it,” Senteno said.

The Homeland Security document acknowledges risks that the Census Bureau will assign an inaccurate immigration status to someone, that people won’t be able to correct mistakes about themselves and that Homeland Security information will be linked inaccurately to data from other sources used by the Census Bureau.

“Linking records between datasets is not likely to be 100% accurate,” the Homeland Security document notes.

Trump ordered the Census Bureau to collect citizenship information through administrative records from federal agencies and the 50 states after the Supreme Court ruled against his administration last summer by deciding that a citizenship question wouldn’t be allowed on this spring’s 2020 Census questionnaire.

The administration had said the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four more liberal members in saying the administration’s current justification for the question “seems to have been contrived.”

Opponents of the citizenship question had argued it would scare off immigrants, Hispanics and others from participating in the once-a-decade headcount. The 2020 Census will help determine how many congressional seats each state gets as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal funds.

The federal lawsuit challenging Trump’s order to collect the citizenship data claims that the data gathering is motivated by “a racially discriminatory scheme” to reduce the political power of Latinos and increase the representation of non-Latino whites.

As part of the order, the U.S. Census Bureau has asked state drivers’ license bureaus for records, but so far only Nebraska has agreed to cooperate.

Gathering the citizenship data would give the states the option to design state and legislative districts using voter-age citizen numbers instead of the total population, Trump said in the order. The U.S. Constitution specifies that congressional districts should be based on how many people — not citizens — live there. But it’s murkier for many state legislative districts. Opponents fear that using just citizen figures would make legislative districts more Republican-leaning and less diverse.

“Whether that approach is permissible will be resolved when a state actually proposes a districting plan based on the voter-eligible population,” Trump’s order said. “But because eligibility to vote depends in part on citizenship, states could more effectively exercise this option with a more accurate and complete count of the citizen population.”

Source: Homeland Security to share citizenship data with Census Bureau