Census advocates in Minnesota expressed cautious optimism Thursday after learning the U.S. Supreme Court had knocked down an attempt to ask about citizenship in the 10-year national head count.
The ruling left open the possibility for the Trump administration to make further arguments in a lower court case. Some say the timeline is too short before Census Bureau officials must begin preparing the forms, though the president tweeted Thursday afternoon that he would seek to delay the census.
“While I’m disappointed that the Supreme Court did not definitively rule against the citizenship question today, this is a step in the right direction,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement. “The Court’s decision acknowledges that the Census Bureau failed to provide an adequate explanation for including a question on citizenship.”
Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan noted that past censuses have asked about citizenship.
“Given the strict confidentiality of individual census data required by law, and the broad range of other questions in the census, determining the citizenship of anyone residing in the United States should not be considered controversial,” Carnahan said in a statement.
Opponents of a citizenship question argue that including the question would reduce participation in the census, leading to a less accurate count. Billions in federal funds are at stake, as well as how seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are divided among states.
Minnesota received about $15 billion in federal funding tied to census counts in 2016, according to research from George Washington University.
“It would drive the census and the state of Minnesota dangerously close to not having entire households included because they may have mixed citizenship statuses within those households,” Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday.
Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Crystal Lake, said he agreed with the court’s decision because it follows the appropriate due process. But he supports adding the citizenship question to the census, and he would like to see a more robust discussion about whether people living in the country illegally should be counted for congressional apportionment.
“I think it’s important to count citizens” while surveying everyone, Munson said. “How we use that data would be a different issue.”
Antonia Alvarez, housekeeper and activist who is in the country illegally, was dusting a sculpture in a client’s home when she heard about the court decision on TV. It gave her hope, she said, but “they’ve given a little bit of opportunity for Trump to present some evidence — we haven’t won 100 percent.”
As a Mexican native who’s lived here for decades, Alvarez knocked on doors in advance of the 2010 census, trying to make the case to the Latino immigrant community that they should participate because funding for education, housing and other areas would be affected if they were undercounted. She said people were afraid to fill out census forms at the time, and now Alvarez fears the climate for immigrants has only grown worse.
“Honestly I think it’s a question that doesn’t need to be there,” said Alvarez, who plans to advise people in her community not to answer if the citizenship question winds up on census forms. “It’s … discrimination. It threatens people. It takes away our human dignity.”
Erika, a house cleaner who works with her, also is in the country illegally.
“One of my biggest fears is to fill out a form … with the uncertainty of what it’s used for, and it comes back to haunt me,” said Erika, who spoke to the Star Tribune on the condition that her last name not be printed in order to protect her immigration status.
A group of Mexican immigrants taking a break at Bachman’s Wholesale Nursery in Farmington voiced some confusion about whether they were even eligible to fill out the census as legal workers but not citizens. Some decadeslong residents didn’t recall receiving census forms.
Arturo Fierros Sanchez, a resident for more than 30 years, said he could have mistaken the forms for junk mail, because he mainly just paid attention to his bills. But if he receives it this time around, he considers it his duty to follow through.
“If I’m a resident and I want to become a citizen, I believe that I have to fill out the question,” said Sanchez, a nursery worker who lives in Bloomington.
The 2020 census is the first that will rely primarily on online responses. Residents will not receive mailers instructing them to fill out the form until March of next year. In the meantime, local and federal officials are gathering an accurate list of addresses. Local and state officials have identified 37,000 new addresses not previously on the Census Bureau’s rolls, state demographer Susan Brower said Thursday — partly due to new construction.
Representatives of the Minnesota Census Mobilization Partnership said they hope to ensure that Minnesota has a complete count. Bob Tracy of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, a leader of the partnership, said the citizenship question is merely one obstacle.
“For the last 2.5 years, we’ve dealt with rhetoric … [and] administrative actions intended to discourage full participation in the 2020 census,” Tracy said, citing the Trump administration’s actions around immigration. “Today is a positive moment. But none of what we’ve been dealing with up to this point is going to go away.”
Minnesota is at risk of losing a congressional seat following this census, based on faster growth in other states. Some studies have indicated that a census with a citizenship question might result in the state keeping its seats, however, because of less participation in states with larger immigrant populations.