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Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross Says South Florida Immigrants Shouldn't Fear Census Citizenship Question

Apr 20, 2019
Originally published on April 20, 2019 11:05 am

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says immigrants and non-citizens in South Florida should not fear a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

During a visit to Miami Thursday to meet with local business leaders, Ross—who oversees the census—emphasized that Census Bureau workers cannot share people’s responses with other government authorities. The comment came in response to continuing concerns that immigrants will sit out the census for fear their answers could be released to federal immigration authorities.

“It is absolutely a federal offense for any Census Bureau employee to reveal anybody’s personal data to anyone. They’re not permitted to reveal it to law enforcement, not permitted to reveal it to" Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ross said before meeting with members of the Miami Chamber of Commerce at Rokk3r Labs in Wynwood.

The citizenship question has sparked an intense nationwide legal battle with profound implications for federal policy. States and immigrant rights groups have sued the Trump administration over the question, and multiple judges have blocked the federal government from adding it. The Supreme Court will hear the matter on April 23.

The census has not asked all households about their citizenship since 1950. But Ross has said he approved adding the question to next year’s survey to better enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Constitution mandates that the census be an “actual enumeration” of everyone who lives in the U.S. Next year’s census will determine which states lose or gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives when redistricting begins in 2021. The federal government will also use responses to decide how to allocate billions in federal funds to local communities.

Critics of the citizenship question, including the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrants rights groups, say it could scare both legal and undocumented immigrants away from participating in the census and decrease electoral representation in Democratic-leaning areas with more non-citizens.

As the Trump administration continues to crack down on illegal immigration, immigrant rights advocates have expressed concerns that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could use the responses to identify undocumented immigrants. Any resulting undercount could be especially sharp in Florida, home to an estimated 775,000 unauthorized immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center.

"Even without the question people are reluctant to participate in the census due to fears of how that information might be used—particularly folks who are undocumented. With the question, it's downright terrifying," said Thomas Kennedy, an organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, which has was joined a lawsuit against the question. 

He added that, given the Trump administration's aggressive stance against illegal immigration, he and other immigrants do not trust Ross' reassurances. 

"They have proven themselves" to not be "good-faith actors" when it comes to immigration. So we obviously would never take them at their word" when they say that immigrants having nothing to fear, Kennedy said. 

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