The New York Immigration Coalition on Wednesday called upon all immigrants to speak out against a newly added question to the 2020 U.S. census about citizenship status.
New York Counts 2020, the group’s state-wide campaign, follows Monday’s federal announcement that the Commerce Department will reinstate a citizenship question for the first time in 70 years. The state campaign aims to encourage immigrant community groups, elected officials, census experts and labor leaders to rally for an accurate count.
Immigrant advocates, however, fear the question will deter New York immigrants from answering truthfully, said New York Immigration Coalition executive director Steven Choi. Specifically, they are worried that an inaccurate count will lead to the loss of federal aid money and Congressional seats in the government.
“There’s $7 billion in federal funding that is at stake if [immigrants] don’t have a full count,” Choi said. “New York is going to lose out on billions of dollars for education, for health care and for jobs.”
The Commerce Department said the question is an attempt to better enforce the Voting Rights Act which requires a count of citizens of voting age to prohibit racial discrimination in voting.
“Voting rights? Since when, Mr. President?” said Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez of District 7, which includes parts of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. “You are putting every road block that you can imagine in order to prevent minorities in this country to exercise their right to vote. Shame on you, Mr. President.”
Some advocates see this as a highly political move to monitor undocumented immigrants and use it as a possible tool for deportation.
“There is precedent for sharing this information, like when the census was previously used for the Japanese internment camps – information was shared,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng of District 6, which covers Queens.
Participants of the New York Counts 2020 coalition includes a diverse range of organizations like the Arab American Association of New York, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Chinese Progressive Association and the MinKwon Center for Community Action. Members of the coalition aim to fight the question in whatever ways they can in the political arena to the courts.
The New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has also said he will be leading a multi-state lawsuit to fight the new question. Many other states are expected to do the same.
“If the Trump administration is going to turn the Census into a weapon, then New York is going to need an army to protect it,” said Choi.