Tag Archives: citizenship question

Draw The Lines That Shape Your Future

In 2018, Stephanie Hofeller, the estranged daughter of Republican strategist Thomas Hofeller, released files from her deceased father’s disk drives that eventually led to the Supreme Court decision to remove the controversial citizenship question from the Census.

The Hofeller files had a significant impact– they confirmed that politicians and political operatives were creating strategies to disenfranchise minority communities and manipulating redistricting laws to favor one race and one party.

Thomas Hofeller was credited with masterminding the 2001 and 2011 redistricting process for the Republican Party. He travelled the country wherever Republicans controlled the legislature and redistricting process, and rigged political maps to give Republicans an unfair advantage in winning elections and holding on to legislatures.

The citizenship question was born from Hofeller’s tactics to gerrymander voting districts in favor of the Republican party.

In Texas, Hofeller discovered that thousands of Latinos and minorities could be eliminated from the decennial by adding a citizenship question to the Census. In an unpublished study  he concluded that adding the citizenship question to the census would be ‘”advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites” when voting districts were redrawn.

Stephanie Hofeller shared this information with watchdog group Common Cause who added it to their legal fight challenging legislative maps her father had drawn for North Carolina. The information then made its way into lawsuits challenging the citizenship question at the Supreme Court, which eventually decided to axe the question from the Census altogether.

Political and gerrymandering schemes like these deter vulnerable minority communities from participating in the census, warned Kathy Feng of Common Cause in a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services. She emphasized that politicians could exploit redistricting to skew power in their favor, making it increasingly important to ‘advocate vociferously’ for everyone to be counted in the census.

Feng urged communities to get involved in the redistricting process to increase their voting power and ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

As the nation grows more diverse, the changing face of America has to be reflected at every political level. Elected officials must voice the needs and concerns of the neighborhoods and communities they represent, instead of serving their own political interests.

When this does not happen, communities suffer.

What Redistricting Does

Voting districts are redrawn every ten years to reflect population shifts in communities across the country and ensure equal representation for all residents.

By law, once the Census is complete by December 31, the Census Bureau must release data on how many people live in each state and determine how many representatives will be allocated to each state in Congress.

Redistricting is an attempt to set the balance straight.

But when redistricting gets distorted, the imbalance can devastate communities.

Gerrymandering Hurts Communities

In 2012, Koreatown, the densely populated Korean American community in LA, was carved into four different districts along a valuable piece of real estate on the Wilshire Corridor that local politicians coveted for its donors, businesses and development prospects.

Koreatown is a largely immigrant, non-English speaking community that fell prey to politicians who illegally gerrymandered district boundaries, and formed voter blocks based on race, to give themselves the advantage in future council elections.

Despite appeals challenging the division, recounts Feng, during the 9/11 media blackout, the legislature split the community “into four different pieces behind a cloak of secrecy,” denying Koreatown residents a chance for more balanced and greater political power.

In another example of unfair redistricting, Watts, a predominantly African American and Latino community in SoCal was hit by a freak snowstorm in 2003, and appealed to congressional, assembly and senate offices for emergency aid. At the time Watts was split into three different districts and residents were told, “We don’t really represent you.” Feng described how residents “were essentially ping-ponged from one office to another and it took more than a week for the state to finally declare an emergency.”

If the communities in Watts were combined into a single district, they would have had enough voice to demand the state and federal help they deserved.

“The districting process not only can determine which candidates will win in specific districts, but also can determine which party ultimately controls our local, state, and federal legislatures,” writes Douglas J. Amy,  a leading expert on electoral voting systems at Mount Holyoke College. “In a very real way, then, the political manipulation of district lines devalues the vote and undermines the democratic process.”

Census Challenges Impacting the Redistricting Process

Redistricting can be complicated by populations shifting across district and state lines over a ten year timeframe, but this year operations have been hobbled by the unprecedented restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

People remain hard to count due to COVID-19

The Census Bureau faces a challenging task counting everyone with quarantines keeping people isolated and out of reach. If enumerators cannot gather data from hard to count, quarantined households, an accurate census count may be impossible. The decennial could exclude people who don’t self-respond because they have no computer or broadband access, and  “others may not even be sure about responding,” said Feng.

The Census Bureau has extended the timeline for data gathering through October, and redistricting could begin by July 31, 2021.

But it’s unlikely that lines can be redrawn in time before the next primary elections for federal and state candidates. 

The US population is on the move

Last year, the Census Bureau released data showing that the US population was moving southwards.  UC Berkeley reported that  the California housing crisis created an exodus from the Golden State as a shortage of affordable homes and low rents forced middle and low income people inland and to the south.

“In a recession or when times are hard, people move,” commented Feng.

Migration has an impact on how many seats are apportioned to each state for congressional representatives, because district lines have to be redrawn to reflect revised population counts.

As long as California’s population remains static, the state will retain its current quota of 53 representatives. But if the census count reveals a decline in population as people move to other states, CA will lose congressional seats. Projections from Election Data Services indicate that Texas and Florida are on track to gain congressional seats as more people move south. Between 2010 to 2019, cities in Texas –  Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth and Dallas – added the most people.

However, redistricting lines were drawn ten years ago and do not accurately reflect the current numbers of residents – populations shrink or increase as people move, are born or immigrate in each district.

“Ultimately you want to make sure that each district has an equal number of residents.” confirmed Kathy Feng. Essentially each district must have the same voice when it comes to electing their representatives, not just in Congress, “but all the way down to the state legislature, city council, and school board.”

The term ‘resident’, Feng clarified, means every citizen, immigrant, and undocumented person in the district, not “just the number of voters.”

Reform Redistriction

Traditionally, legislators were responsible for redrawing district lines, a practice that Feng called “self-serving” because legislators were influenced by partisan interests or preserving their own ability to rerun for office.

California led redistricting reform by selecting 14 independent commissioners from diverse communities, to inform the redistricting process by gathering input from public forums around the state. Citizen commissions offer communities an opportunity to share information and form districts based on where they reside.

In Culver City, “People lined up as if they were going to a rock concert rather than a public hearing” about their community,” recalls Feng.

California’s award winning initiative has set the national standard for independent redistricting through public engagement. Nine states have followed its lead. Michigan is giving power back to communities by adopting new rules to allow for the creation of a citizen’s commission to redraw lines.

By standing up to be counted, people could eliminate partisan gerrymandering in their districts and shape the future of their communities.  Equal representation from redistricting will empower minority communities if they choose to participate more actively in the census.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents


Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

 

image: Elkanah Tisdale, Wikimedia

images: Kathy Feng, Common Cause

Capturing the Face of Multi-Ethnic America

1. Can I identify my race in the census?

Yes.

Census 2020 collects data on race and ethnicity to capture the face of multi-ethnic America. 

The Asian race category which was added to the census in 2000, offers an option to mark national origin  as ‘Asian Indian’

Asian refers to people originating from the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. An ‘other Asian’ option is available for subgroups from the Asian diaspora such as Pakistan and Cambodia.

The term ‘race’ was first introduced in the 1890  census which distinguished between East Asian subgroups  – Chinese, Japanese and Indian (Asian) while the 1930 census actually had a color category  for Hindus.

The race question and heritage is based upon self-identification which means you can choose more than one option to describe your racial identity. 


2. Will I become a target for ethnic discrimination if I disclose my national origin as Asian Indian?

No.

Some Asian Americans fear that marking their race or national origin  on the census will lead to racial profiling and make them targets of ethnic discrimination.

But the census format only reflects how classifications of race and ethnicity have changed in society since the first census in1790.

Data collected on race informs federal policy decisions on civil rights, educational opportunities, promoting equal opportunities ,and assessing environmental risks and racial disparities in health care access, housing, income and poverty.

 

3. Is the census available in any Indian languages?

No. 

Paper census forms will only be available in English and Spanish and people can respond to census questions online or over the phone in 12 other languages.

However the Census Bureau will provide guides, glossaries, and a language identification card for ‘limited English speaking households’ for a total of 59 languages that include Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Nepali, Urdu, Telugu, Punjabi, Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi.

Since 1890 the Census has collected data on English-speaking ability and languages spoken at home to help determine bilingual election requirements under the Voting Rights Act.

 

4. Does my information remain confidential?

Yes. 

Census information is PRIVATE. The Census Bureau values the trust respondents place in them to be ‘caretakers’ of the data they collect. Information is used only to produce statistics of the US economy and population for federal programs.

Individuals are never identified.

Strict confidentiality laws prohibit the Census from sharing information it collects from respondents. Your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Your data is protected by Title 13 of the US Code.

 

5. Is this information distributed to ICE and other government agencies?

No.

The Census Bureau does not share respondent information with immigration, law enforcement, tax collection agencies or any other organization. Security measures are in place to ensure that any census data released to federal agencies or organizations, are carefully reviewed to avoid disclosing individual information

Surveys are mailed to addresses, rather than to specific individuals, to protect the confidentiality of participating households.

So, it is safe, especially for immigrant families with children – a group that is traditionally undercounted – to participate in the census.


6. Will I have to disclose my citizenship?

No.

The Census is a count of everyone living in the US including citizens, non-citizens, undocumented immigrants, non-citizen legal residents and non-citizen long term visitors. 

The Constitution “does not say citizen, it does not say legal resident, it says the census must count all persons in the 50 states and the primary constitutional purpose is apportionment.” says Terri Ann Lowenthal, a Census Expert.

The addition of the citizenship question made people wary about participating in the census for fear it would expose non-citizens to ICE interrogations. But the Supreme Court BLOCKED its inclusion in Census 2020 so immigrants (legal and undocumented), refugees, minorities and their families are not deterred from participating in the census, and the population count is more accurate.  

What’s at stake? An accurate count ensures that each state gets the right number of congressional seats to represent its population and receives its share of $900 billion each year in federal funding to support communities, families and infrastructures.

Remember – you don’t count if you’re not counted!

 

7. I’m on an H1B visa and my spouse is on H4 visa.  Will participation in the census affect our status?

No.

The H1B visa is issued to foreign-born workers and skilled professionals who account for a significant proportion of IT occupations in states like California and Texas.

In 2018, USCIS reported that Indians accounted for 73.9 percent of total H1B visa holders in the USA and that  93% of H4 dependent spouses were from India.

Though the census includes all foreign-born non-immigrants in its population count, it does not collect data on their legal status. The law ensures that personal information is not shared with any agency, including law enforcement. All data at the Census Bureau is kept confidential and protected from disclosure.

 

8. How many questions does the Census have?

Nine. 

Each household will receive a form that asks about basic demographic and housing information that covers:

  • The number of people living or staying in your household as of April 1, 2020.
  • If your home is owned with or without a mortgage, rented or occupied without rent.
  • A phone number of someone living in your home.
  • The name, sex, age, race and date of birth of each person living in your home.
  • Whether anyone is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish descent
  • The relationship of each person to a central person in the home.
  • Data collected on age for example, helps local officials plan program funding for health and assistance to seniors and children.

9. How do I respond to the Census?

You can respond online, by mail or by phone. 

Between March and April 2020, Most households will receive an online invitation to participate in Census 2020. Areas less likely to respond online will receive a paper invitation. Reminders will be sent out and if people do not respond they will receive additional reminders and a paper questionnaire, or an in-person follow up.

For questions about the census call 301-763-INFO (4636) or 800-923-8282 or go to ask.census.gov

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor to India Currents

All Media Assets: U.S. Census Bureau

 

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.

Should Banks Be Raising the Citizenship Question?

By Ethnic Media Services, San Francisco.

Candidate Donald Trump rode his anti-immigrant rhetoric straight to the White House. Since then, he’s banned people from heavily Muslim-populated countries, taken children from their parents upon arrival at the Mexico border, is attempting to make citizenship status a  question on the 2020 Census, and one hot day in late July, blocked a fourth-generation American mom from buying her kids tacos at her local swimming pool in Roeland Park, Kansas.

Jessica Salazar Collins, a Bank of America customer for nearly 20 years, called Bank of America to ask why her debit card had been declined. Eventually, she learned that her account had been frozen because her husband had not responded to a bank postcard inquiring about his citizenship status. Josh Collins was born in Wichita.

Neither of the Collinses has ever left the United States except for a first-anniversary, belated honeymoon trip to Mexico in 2005. They had been Bank of America customers before that.

In time not as quickly as promised, and not in time to buy movie tickets for the family the next day the couple regained access to their earnings. But by early August, they’d taken their banking to a local credit union. “This happened to the wrong people,” Jessica Collins told Ethnic Media Services.

Bank of America isn’t alone in asking customers their citizenship status. Checking account applications from Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, US Bank and even the credit union where the Collinses now do their banking – Mainstreet, all ask about it, and so do San Francisco’s Fire and Golden1 credit unions.

Bank of America declined to say why it targeted Josh Collins but not his wife, how often it performs such “routine updates” of client accounts, or how many postcards it sent out like the one the Collinses ultimately threw away in fear it was actually a scam, or how many more people experienced the bank’s “last resort,” as spokesman Christopher Feeney described it, of having their accounts frozen for failing to respond.

Banks and American Bankers Association spokeswoman Blair Bernstein generally explain the citizenship question as being a part of their effort to combat money-laundering and terrorism funding, but in every case, the decision to ask customers about their citizenship status is the bank’s own choice. Federal rules do not require it.

“We have many customers who aren’t U.S. citizens,” Feeney told Ethnic Media Services. He also said the citizenship question is nothing new for them and probably has been in place at least a decade. The Collinses, he said, just got caught up in one of the bank’s periodic updates of client information.

Treasury Department regulations require that banks know customers’ names, date of birth, Social Security numbers and addresses.

“Banks may be tightening up their due diligence,” said lawyer Alma Angotti, who specializes in money laundering and terror funding enforcement for the consulting firm Navigant in Washington, D.C. She previously worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Treasury Department.

“The current political climate has cast doubt on why financial institutions are doing this. There are lots of things banks will ask you that aren’t required,” she said.

Bank of America spokesman Feeney described the government’s various sanctions against other countries as the root of an array of regulations that led the bank to ask about citizenship. Knowledge of a customer’s dual citizenship, for instance, Angotti said, might keep a bank from questioning why a customer is sending money out of the country.

The more information a bank has up front, the fewer questions it will have as it routinely monitors customers’ accounts and transactions.

But for those without citizenship status, immigrant advocates say, any requirement that they divulge their circumstances is going to deter them from doing business with that bank.

“It’s something we’ve been hearing about for a while,” said Paulina Gonzalez of the California Reinvestment Coalition said. “It seems to correlate with … the anti-immigrant stance of the administration.

“That’s what’s so concerning. People are afraid to sign papers,” she said, referring to a 2017 survey done by some of the 300 members of the nonprofit California Reinvestment Coalition. Her 32-year-old organization aims to ensure financial institutions reinvest in their communities and “do no harm,” she said. Some members in the course of their work will try to gather rudimentary information from the people they provide financial counseling and small business support.

“People are afraid to sign even for nonprofits in this political climate,” she said.

In San Francisco, the treasurer and tax collector’s Office of Financial Empowerment reports that from 2011 through 2015, the percentage of “unbanked” city residents dropped from 5.9% to 2.1%.

Although it also notes that 16.5% of city residents continue to rely on payday-loan and check-cashing companies rather than traditional banks, some of its success in getting people bank accounts may be due to its program BankOn San Francisco, which refers citizens to banks that have met its “very specific standards,” program director Sean Kline told Ethnic Media Services. Among those standards is the requirement that they accept non-U.S. identification.

Among its banking partners is the Self-Help Credit Union, formed in 2008. That institution requires knowing a person’s citizenship status for loan applications, but not for checking accounts. Its website includes links to information on such topics as “You Don’t Need to Be a Citizen to Have a US Bank Account” (https://tinyurl.com/noncitizenbanking) and “How undocumented immigrants can get bank accounts” (https://tinyurl.com/whatdocumentswork) as well as testimonials to the reasons why people should use banking to establish credit history, safety in not carrying cash, earn interest and the bill-paying convenience.

It also lists Latino credit unions across the country (https://tinyurl.com/Latinocreditunions). Gonzalez is quoted on the laws protecting customers’ personal information from governmental prying.

Banking, Gonzalez said, “is such a necessity of everyday life. Here we are, creating a situation where they’re not going to have access to this important function, or they’re going to freeze your account or make you feel like you’re not welcome there.”

There’s “a lack of trust in financial institutions,” she said. “To have to answer such a private question in this political climate … there are privacy rules in place. I know the bank can’t turn that information over without a subpoena, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t afraid that’s going to happen.”

“We need this citizenship information to determine the eligibility and suitability of our products and to comply with the USA PATRIOT Act,” reads Wells Fargo’s online checking account application, in an explainer popup accompanying the online form’s citizenship question. Feeney, also, had cited the 2001 Patriot Act and the 1970 Bank Secrecy Act and Treasury Department regulations, but ultimately could not cite specific requirements that banks collect clients’ citizenship.

Neither could Blair Bernstein, spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, who cited the 1970 legislation, “Know Your Customer” standards, and “strict regulatory requirements steadily expanded since 9/11,” along with regulators’ routine examinations of banks for compliance.