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Arizona Activist: Census Citizenship Question 'Scares The Hell Out Of Me'

Alejandro Chavez
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
file | staff
Alejandro Chavez, grandson of Cesar Chavez, speaks to students at a south Phoenix leadership academy named for his grandfather.

The Trump administration’s plan to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 Census has been met with a wave of lawsuits, some of which were bolstered with more support last week.

The city and county of Los Angeles joined California’s lawsuit, which argues some immigrants will avoid the census altogether if the question is included. Colorado joined several states and cities in another lawsuit attempting to block the administration from adding this question.

And yet another lawsuit representing individuals added new plaintiffs last week, including some from Arizona. D’Vera Cohn, a census researcher with Pew Research Center, explained to us how the administration is justifying adding a question about citizenship in the first place.

“So the Justice Department asked the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, to include citizenship on the census in order to help enforce the Voting Rights Act," she said. "The Voting Rights Act helps protect voters from minority groups, to make sure their rights to vote and their power to vote are not impaired."

Cohn added that it’s illegal for any personal information from the census — including citizenship status — to be used by law enforcement.

“Those protections were enforced as the result of an incident that is still being talked about today, during World War II, when census bureau data about Japanese neighborhoods were disclosed to other agencies in the U.S. government, and that helped the government round up Japanese Americans and put them in internment camps,” she said.

So simply checking the “not a U.S. citizen” box on the citizenship question would not put someone in jeopardy of deportation, in fact, the question doesn’t ask for specifics on whether someone is here legally. But there are still concerns about the possible effects of this question on census accuracy.

“There were some census bureau officials who raised some concerns about this," said Cohn. "There was a memo that came out last year that said that some people in focus groups and some small surveys had spontaneously raised a concern when they were asked about citizenship — in some cases even walking out of the room rather than answer the question.”

People who choose not to fill out the census are not counted, which could affect federal funding for programs in their neighborhoods.

The Show spoke with someone who is worried about what an undercount of immigrants could do to his community.

Alejandro Chavez is the grandson of legendary activist Cesar Chavez, and he lives in west Phoenix. He’s recently joined a legal challenge to the addition of this question, alongside 18 other individuals who are also plaintiffs in the case.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.