U.S. census ‘citizenship’ question would hurt universities, diversity efforts

The United States Census helps the U.S. government determine what is needed in communities across the country, from funding of hospitals to funding for public and private universities. With an accurate count of the population, proper federal funding can be dispersed. But if a question regarding citizenship is added to the 2020 census, which is currently being pushed by President Donald Trump’s administration, it will create implications for every person living in the U.S. – citizen or not.

If the government asks about citizenship in the 2020 census, which hasn’t happened since 1950, it is likely that immigrants won’t report information due to the political climate on immigration. Although undocumented immigrants already fill out the census in low numbers, the addition of the citizenship question will likely lower federal funding even more in immigrant areas due to an undercount. The University, its students and professors must stand up against this decision because an inaccurate census count will undermine the progress we have made in diversity and inclusion so far.

Hatchet File Photo: Renee Pineda

Hatchet File Photo: Renee Pineda

A large number of immigrants and undocumented people afraid to report their information would lead to a census with massive gaps. This inaccurate information directly affects funding to any school that collects federal funds – hurting college students, prospective students and anyone who wants to receive a degree. The census is intended to be filled out by everyone and when immigrants, who are overwhelmingly people of color, do not fill out the form, they become underrepresented. This means that it is likely that communities of color could be heavily affected by a decrease in funding of schools and programs that enable many students of color to seek a degree, because the government is likely to apportion fewer funds to districts with fewer students. If the citizenship question is included in the 2020 census, it will impact prospective students of color and students from low-income families at GW by reducing funding for resources – including after-school programs and arts courses – that help with a student’s application. This question will move us backward in our goal of maintaining a diverse student body. The University – as well as its students and professors – must be vigilant and speak out, through lobbying and local activism, against adding a question to the U.S. census that will impact schools and affect lower-income students.

On its application, GW doesn’t ask about citizenship, and federal laws do not prohibit undocumented students from being admitted into public or private universities. But because the 2020 census will likely exclude undocumented voices, universities won’t be as equipped to help thousands of students.

The University, as an institution that has a vested interest in amplifying diverse voices on campus, should be publicly lobbying for the removal of this question, as it poses a laundry list of negative ramifications for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. Although GW stays quiet when it comes to their mostly local lobbying, it’s crucial that the University uses its resources to fight for diversity and inclusion. A lack of information on these communities in the census could mean that a school board doesn’t build a new elementary school because the data isn’t there to support the development. This miscalculation will widen the gap that students from low-income backgrounds must cross to reach their goals.

Aside from the ramifications for poor communities and communities of color, the citizenship question will change the nation politically. District lines will be redrawn in most states, according to the census results, causing an impact on future local elections. This citizenship question is an effective scare tactic to weaken minority communities, which are largely left-leaning, by making the census dangerous and unattractive for immigrants and thereby reducing their voice in their state and in the country.

As one of the most politically active universities in the nation, it’s essential that all students are advocates for an inclusive census. The University has already stood up for students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, and many students have protested against the removal of the program. We must keep that message going even though this issue is more long-term and will take longer to see its effects. This problem must be tackled through conversations with community leaders and local representatives across the nation. Although most undergraduate students will likely not fill out the form for their family themselves, an educated student body can reach out to their representatives and push against this requirement and protest. These students would follow the lead of the 12 states – including New York, California, New Mexico and Pennsylvania – that have taken steps to sue the Trump administration due to the likelihood of an undercount, which would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Professors who are teaching courses on immigration or American politics must try to educate students in events across campus on the ramifications of an ineffective U.S. census. By informing students on the effects of this census, more students can spread the word on this national issue. The census will be filled out by every student’s family, regardless of their political interests or majors. Every student deserves to be informed on the 2020 census.

I chose this University in order to learn from a diverse array of students and professors. If this question is added to the census, I’m unsure what GW will look like in the next 10 years. While most citizens probably don’t think much about the U.S. Census Bureau, we are students who are looking to be more inclusive, especially on our campus, and we must fight this tooth and nail. Without a proper headcount of all the people within the U.S. border, it is unclear how we will recover.

Renee Pineda, a junior majoring in political science, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.