Tag Archives: Cencus

Which Race and Ethnic Card to Play: Census Identities Still Confound

Everyone in the United States plays a race or ethnic card some time, or at least everyone responding to the census. Despite the scientific view that race is an artificial social construct, unmoored from biological reality, is there a box that best describes you? Whether you plan to respond to the census online, in writing or by telephone, one question you’ll have to answer will be how you self-identify.

FAQ:​ What are the race and ethnic categories on the census form?

A:​ Your racial choices are: (1) White; (2) Black or African American; (3) American Indian or Alaskan Native; (4) Asian – with numerous boxes as subsets; and (5) Some other race. The questionnaire also asks, separately, if the respondent is “of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin,” but instructs that, “for this census, Hispanic origins are not races.”

FAQ:​ What if I’m not white or black? I’m Egyptian and my neighbor is from Iran. What are our options and who determines the categories?

A:​ You and your neighbor fall into what is called the MENA classification: Middle Eastern and North African. There was a proposal to add MENA to the 2020 form, but the Office of Management and Budget, which makes the assigned identity group determinations about the census, decided to keep the same basic categories that were on the 2010 census form.

FAQ:​ So, if I’m MENA, what box best describes me?
A:​ That’s a personal choice. Many MENA residents, and others, end up checking “Some other race,” the

third-largest race category after white and black or African American.

FAQ​: But I thought Hispanics and Latinos were now the second-largest racial group in the United States according to their population. So how do you get “Some other race” as the third-largest group?

A:​ As far as the census is concerned, Hispanics and Latinos are ethnic classifications not racial classifications. Some will check the “White” box and some will check the “Black” box or write in Afro Latino, for example, as an addition. Many will check the “Some other race” box. MENA respondents also frequently check the “Some other race” box as well. They don’t see themselves as black or white, and in most cases, they are not of Hispanic or Latino origin.

FAQ:​ Have census categories changed over time?

A:​ Yes. Mulatto, octoroon or quadroon once were options on the census form to describe African Americans of mixed heritage. One estimate calculates that 500,000 of these individuals checked the “White” box on the 1920 form. In later years, public demand and pressure resulted in the OMB removing “Negro” as an option for American-born residents of African descent. The term still appeared on the 2010 decennial census, but on the 2020 form the choices are “Black” or “African American.”

FAQ:​ What if I was born here, but my parents are from Africa?

A: ​There is a lot of subjectivity involved in making these choices. For some, black has come to mean anyone who is a descendant of the African diaspora, regardless of where they were born or live. One Somali man, a longtime resident and U.S. citizen, married an American woman who identified as black. When asked how he describes his U.S.-born children, he said, “Well, now that I think about it, I guess they are African American.”

FAQ:​ What if I am of mixed heritage? My parents are African American, but I know some of their ancestors were from Europe. They were Irish, for example, Dutch or German. Other ancestors, we think, were Native American.

A:​ The questionnaire is set up so that you can “Mark one or more boxes AND print origins.” We know America has had a ​complicated history​ (​https://tinyurl.com/EMS-FAQ​), as more people are discovering through genomic testing. One adult census respondent recalls discouraging his mother, who identifies as black, from checking every major race category box on the form.

FAQ:​ Why would it have mattered if she had? What difference does the box I check make or any information I may add?

A:​ For one, you have a better chance of “owning” who you are. Therefore, you are less likely to be misrepresented by a census employee who, without that information, would make a determination about your identity. So, in that sense, checking every box would be a more accurate contribution to understanding our country’s history.

Individual census data is sealed for 72 years, but in the future your descendants or distant relatives will be able to look you up by name on the census form you respond to this year. In fact, the census is among the primary tools genealogists and researchers use to trace family histories.

You might also reflect on that first constitutionally mandated census in 1790. To achieve a political compromise, those held in bondage were counted only as three-fifths of a person, and their names were not recorded on the census. Even as late as 1860, the last census before the Civil War, some owners reported the age and sex of their captives, but not their names.

FAQ:​ But how does filling out the census or not affect my immediate financial or economic condition?

A:​ For practical purposes, as a measure of population, census data is used to determine how the federal and state governments allocate funds and resources, in addition to determining the number of seats states get in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Data can be a double-edged sword. Some data are critical to attempts to address structural disparities among America’s peoples, but data also can used as a guide to steer resources away from those deemed political adversaries. How and why data are used is an important conversation, but it’s a different conversation from whether it is in your interest to respond to the census.

However, unless you are clear about who you are by identity, you may be grouped with a different race than your preference. That was why the individual discouraged his mother from checking every box. He wanted to make sure that if there were resources linked to her identity, those resources would be allocated to and benefit the community with which she primarily identified.

Census Poses No Risk to DACA Holders, Experts Say, Encouraging Participation

Featured Image provided under licensing with no changes made

Today we continue with our occasional series meant to answer the most frequently asked questions regarding the census. If you have a question or doubt about the census, please write to pilarmarrero700@gmail.com and we will consult the experts to get the answers. These questions were gathered through social media. 

Question: “I am a citizen and I live with my boyfriend, who has DACA. If the Supreme Court approves ending DACA, should I include my boyfriend’s information in the census count of my household? I am afraid including him may have negative consequences for him.”

The DACA program, a deferred-action decision allowing temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, was put in place by President Barack Obama in 2012. In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would phase out the program, alleging that it was illegal from the very beginning.

Several lawsuits argued that Trump´s planned termination of DACA violates federal law requiring certain procedures before major rules are changed, as well as equal protection and due process guarantees.

Federal courts issued nationwide injunctions blocking the administration´s plans to end DACA and forcing the continuation of program renewals. The Supreme Court took up the cases before lower courts had fully heard them, an unusual step. A hearing was held in November in front of the Supreme Court, which could issue its ruling at any time before June.

That means the final decision on DACA could come in the middle of census field operations, which start in remote areas of Alaska in January and continue through several phases up until the end of July. 

More than 700,000 people in the United States have active DACA permits, and they often live in mixed-status families with others who have a variety of immigration situations or are native-born citizens. People may fear that they are putting family members in some kind of danger by naming them in the household´s census response. 

But that is not so, said Daniel Sharp, legal director for the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles, a leading organization helping young immigrants with DACA become aware of their rights under terms of the policy. 

Sharp worries that DACA holders or their families won´t participate in the census due to the misconception that their name and other information could be disclosed to the Department of Homeland Security and used against them for potential immigration enforcement. 

“There´s a two-part answer to that question,” Sharp said. 

The first is that the Census Bureau has very strict laws about sharing personal information. “The confidential protection laws that apply to the census information are among the strongest that exist in our laws,” Sharp said. “The U.S. Census Bureau is prohibited from virtually all inter-agency information sharing.” 

That means the Census Bureau can´t disclose the person´s name, their immigration status or any other information. It can only share “aggregated data,” meaning  how many people are in a particular demographic group, for example, but cannot pass on any individual´s information to any other department of the government. “This is by law,” Sharp added. 

The second answer to that question is that adding the DACA holder to a particular household´s census answer does not give the government any additional information it does not already have due to the person´s having applied for DACA. 

“The federal government already has all this information,” the lawyer said. “Whatever risk of deportation the individual DACA holder has is independent of whether or not they participate in the census. They have given their information to the government when they applied and renewed their DACA. Even if they moved, the government could track their social security number and find where they work or live.” 

Furthermore, the information given to the government by DACA holders is protected under terms of the 2012 policy stipulating that the government may not use the information for immigration enforcement unless the person poses a national security risk. 

The issue itself is in litigation right now. The federal government is under a nationwide injunction to follow its original 2012 promise about not sharing or using DACA recipients’ private information for enforcement purposes against them or their family members unless certain circumstances exist, such as that the person poses a national security threat or has committed certain crimes.

Sharp says that adding DACA holders to the census responses in the household where they live is “desirable and encouraged. The information is safe, and it´s important to be counted.”

Sharp also recently emphasized that even in the case of an adverse Supreme Court decision on the DACA program, most of those affected would still have the right to defend themselves in court against a deportation order and are likely to be able to stay in the country for years, even in that worst-case scenario.

Activists and lawyers want to make sure that every DACA holder is counted in the census because even if they spend years battling to legalize their status in the long term, they have the right in the meantime to get the resources and services everyone else gets from the once-every-10-year population count. 

 

Adding the Citizenship Question to the 2020 Census: A Legitimate Fear

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Tuesday about the Census Bureau’s plan to include the citizenship question in the 2020 census.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg struck at the heart of the issue when she probed why the question — part of every census from 1820 to 1950 — had been removed. “Didn’t the Census Bureau give a reason why it was dropped?” Ginsburg asked. All demographic questions were moved to the census long form, which doesn’t exist anymore, or the American Community Survey (ACS), answered the Trump administration’s representative, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco. He added that “the problems with using the American Community Survey are well known.”

Indeed, until 1920, the citizenship question was only asked of adult men. Then from 1920 to 1950, it was asked of all members of a household. Subsequently, in 1960, it was removed altogether and added to the long form census and then in 2010 to the ACS.

Since 1960, the citizenship question has had limited use, asked only of a sample of households, which is one of the problems that Francisco alludes to. The long form census was given to only one-sixth of households and the ACS samples one out of forty households every year.

Not satisfied with Francisco’s response, Ginsburg pressed further, “there was nothing in 1960 to the effect that the Census Bureau found that putting it on the short form would depress the count of non-citizens?” “Well, well, sure your honor, but that’s because they thought that, along with all of the other demographic questions in the census, had an overall impact of – on – on – on overall census accuracy,” Francisco responded, concluding that with any question added “you’re always trading off information and accuracy.”

Historically, the census has always been about accuracy. The first ever census was conducted on August 2, 1790 when census enumerators “went out on horseback to find, question and catalogue the population of the United States,” according to the Smithsonian. Congress required that every household be visited for an accurate count.

Rather obliquely, Francisco argued that “If the citizenship question were not to be added because it would depress the response rate of one community, namely the Hispanic one, then it would empower “any group in the country to knock off any question on the census if they simply get together and boycott it.”

No stranger to parsing obtuse logic, Justice Sonia Sotomayor honed in, “Are you suggesting that Hispanics are boycotting the census? Are you suggesting they don’t have, whether it is rational or not, that they don’t have a legitimate fear?” To which Francisco responded “not in the slightest, your honor.”

These exchanges between the Trump administration and liberal justices of the Supreme Court encapsulated why the citizenship question in the census is in the cross-hairs of a much larger debate of how political power will be redefined if there is an inaccurate census count. Justice Sotomayor’s question — is there a legitimate fear — gives context to the debate.

“I have been practicing and teaching immigration law since the mid-1970s. I have never seen the level of fear in immigration communities as high as it is today,” remarked Bill O Hing, professor of law and migration studies at the University of San Francisco. He said the citizenship question “will definitely deter immigrants and those in mixed families (citizen and noncitizen members) from completing the census form…That means that places like San Francisco and California that have large numbers of immigrants will suffer an undercount.”

The Census Bureau’s own research, conducted between February to September 2017, cites confidentiality concerns among immigrants and communities of color if the question is included. The report went on to quote some of these concerns. “Particularly with our current political climate, the Latino community will not sign up because they will think that Census will pass their information on and people can come looking for them.”

These fears, it is believed, will cause people to not respond to the 2020 census altogether or skip the citizenship question, reducing the accuracy of the census count.

Layering the need for information on top of enumeration has muddied the intent of the census. Surely there is more than one way to gather citizenship data and yet maintain the integrity of the census?

According to Pew Research, the Census Bureau has been filling in missing datain the census in the past, using a technique called imputation. “In the 2010 census, imputation added more than a million people to the household population, and it filled in missing data about age, sex and race for even more people.” Furthermore, the Bureau plans on using Social Security and IRS files to cover missing responses to the citizenship question.

If the census, without the citizenship question, has not been sufficiently accurate, and the citizenship data generated may not be comprehensive, doesn’t it make more sense to have a more accurate count of the population than to have an undercount of the population and an inaccurate record of citizenship?

Jaya Padmanabhan’s guest column runs biweekly in the SF Examiner. This is an opinion column and the point of view of the writer is not necessarily that of The Examiner. She can be reached at jaya.padmanabhan@gmail.com. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan

This article was first published in the San Francisco Examiner and is reprinted with permission from he author.