Amid national uncertainty about whether a citizenship question will be included on the 2020 U.S. Census, advocates in Illinois are not changing their approach to ensuring all residents are counted.
“Whether a citizenship question is on the form or not, the damage is done,” said Anita Banerji, director of the Democracy Initiative of the nonprofit organization Forefront. “So you still have to be very intentional and make sure the communities feel safe and protected to self-report.”
Banerji’s comments came one day after U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his department will send the 2020 U.S. census to print without including a citizenship question, but just hours after President Donald Trump vowed to continue to fight the matter.
“The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE!” Trump tweeted Wednesday morning. “We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.”
By Wednesday afternoon, national news outlets were reporting the administration had reversed course and would seek to include the citizenship question.
According to court transcripts, a federal judge gave the administration a deadline of 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday to enter a written agreement that confirms it’s no longer pursuing the citizenship question or lays out how it will proceed.
Banerji, however, said the president’s Tweets could be another attempt at misinformation and fearmongering.
“The news that's coming out right now could be a distraction. But we have to be at the ready with the correct information, with accurate information,” she said, emphasizing the confidentiality of census participation.
Regardless, she said, the mission of Forefront’s Democracy Initiative and other complete count advocates remains the same.
“There will be a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there in the year ahead,” she said. “The advocates will have to be working smarter and harder to ensure that all residents across the state have accurate information, they feel safe and protected, and understand why it's necessary to self-report.”
Last month, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed an executive order aimed at ensuring an accurate count in the 2020 census and touted a $29 million line item for census outreach in this year’s budget.
The stakes of an undercount, Pritzker said, include the loss of up to two congressional seats and $120 million in federal funding annually for each 1 percent of the population that is undercounted – about $1.2 billion over the 10-year period between each census.
Banerji said the complete count affects all Illinoisans, not just the immigrant communities that would be less likely to report if the citizenship question is included.
“It's not just funding for certain communities, but it’s funding as a whole,” she said, pointing out that accurate census counts help determine a number of demographic figures that could affect business interest on top of federal and state government funding.
“You can't be that thoughtful or that intentional about where these new roads or new hospitals or these kinds of (English as a second language) classes need to go if you don't have accurate data,” she said. “So it behooves all of us to participate in this national civic engagement, civic duty, so that we can be providing a better future.”