The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to temporarily keep the Trump administration from adding a citizenship question may encourage greater participation from New Mexicans than previously expected in the 2020 census.
Policymakers, demographers and grassroots organizations in New Mexico had been concerned that a question asking whether respondents are American citizens would significantly curtail participation next year because of the state’s large Hispanic and immigrant populations.
A Harvard Kennedy School study published in March found that asking about citizenship would reduce the number of Hispanics reported in the 2010 Census by approximately 6 million nationwide, or around 12 percent of the 2010 Hispanic population. Given that New Mexico’s population is 49 percent Hispanic, according to a 2018 census estimate, the impact of a question likely would be significant, said Robert Rhatigan , a demographer who is part of a state commission that aims to boost participation in the census.
“It is certainly a positive thing for New Mexico if a citizenship question is not included,” said Rhatigan, also an associate director at the University of New Mexico’s Geospatial and Populations Studies Department. “The research is very clear that a proposed citizenship question would depress census participation for the Latino community and immigrant community.”
Those concerns were largely eased with the high court’s decision, although New Mexico still faces many challenges in gathering an accurate population count in the census.
“While we’re not out of the woods yet, this decision is good news for New Mexico,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told The New Mexican on Friday. “Our state is at dire risk of being undercounted in the 2020 Census even in the best circumstances.”
One reason the state isn’t out of the woods is the Supreme Court did not give a final answer on the citizenship question, and there is still a chance it could end up on the census.
The Supreme Court said the Trump’s administration’s explanation for wanting to add the question was “more of a distraction” than an explanation. President Trump said after the decision that he had asked lawyers to “delay the Census” until the court is “given additional information from which it can make a final and decisive decision.”
Opponents of the citizenship question have said there isn’t enough time to revisit the issue given that the census is scheduled to begin printing forms next week.
The government says the question would give data on how many Americans are eligible to vote and help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, which bars discrimination against minorities in conducting elections.
Yet even if the citizenship question is not asked, undocumented immigrants may still be reluctant to trust that their participation in the census will be confidential.
“The immigrant community is told by nonprofits that when someone knocks on the door, don’t answer it,” Rhatigan said.
“Now we have to explain to them to please answer the door. They’re hearing conflicting messages.”
The Santa Fe Dreamers Project, which provides free legal services to immigrants, said the court’s decision may not have much of an impact on census participation because immigrants don’t trust the federal government given recent actions and statements by Trump and his administration.
“I wouldn’t fill out a single piece of paper for the government if I was an immigrant right now,” said attorney and Dreamers Project Executive Director Allegra Love. “This is a week after Trump came out and said he’s going to do massive immigration raids. It’s going to be hard to convince anyone that the government has their best interest in mind.”
Trump tweeted on June 17 that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would begin deporting “millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” He then said on June 22 that he would delay those plans, but threatened he might move forward with raids two weeks later.
New Mexico’s challenges with the census go beyond fear among undocumented immigrants. A spread-out population in rural areas with poor roads, phone service and spotty internet connection has traditionally made it challenging to get an accurate count.
According to New Mexico Counts, a coalition of 11 statewide philanthropic organizations promoting the census, about 2 percent of the state’s population wasn’t counted in 2010. It has said a similar undercount in 2020 could cost the state almost $1.5 billion in funding for food stamps, Medicaid, education, transportation and other programs over the next 10 years.
The U.S. census is conducted every 10 years and collects data that is essential in deciding federal funding for services such as Medicaid as well as in drawing congressional and legislative districts.
“There are a lot of resources that are really contingent on the census that affect every community across the state,” said Allan Oliver , executive director of the Thornburg Foundation and an organizer of New Mexico Counts. “Once the communities understand that this has a direct benefit on their children’s healthcare, Medicaid programs and their own local schools, they see there’s a benefit for participating.”
Oliver said he was “cautiously optimistic” that not having the citizenship question will allow for a more accurate census.
“It’s certainly good news not to have that question on there,” Oliver said. “It gives us a real fighting change to have accurate data.”
In April, Lujan Grisham signed an order creating the 2020 Count Commission, which was given around $3.5 million by the legislature to boost outreach to New Mexican communities that have often been undercounted in the census.
“We need to be doing absolutely everything we can to encourage participation in the Census, not discourage it,” Lujan Grisham said. The Supreme Court’s decision “is another step in the right direction.”