Asking parents about citizenship threatens programs for millions of kids

April 2018

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By Abby Hamrick

census imageIt’s a simple enough question: Are you a citizen of the United States? The motivation for the Census Bureau to ask about citizenship seems straightforward – just count the number of non-citizens in the US. Unfortunately like so many things that have to do with human behavior, it’s complicated. Many experts believe non-citizens will simply stop and not participate in the Census at all if it includes a citizenship question.

So what? Do we need to count non-citizens in the Census? The short answer is, yes.

The 2020 Census is an important event for all children. Getting an accurate count of children is crucial for the funding of programs like the School Lunch Program, CHIP, Head Start, WIC, foster care, Medicaid, SNAP, Title I, and Special Education Grants. When a large group of young children are left out of the Census for any reason, all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or place of birth, are affected.

Unfortunately there is a strong current of fear in the immigrant community, particularly those whose families include both citizens and non-citizens, documented and undocumented. Parents are justifiably terrified of being separated from their kids. In a household where even one family member is undocumented, refusal to participate in the Census means the whole family is left out of the count.

A census undercount means fewer resources for critical programs that promote healthy growth and development during early childhood. For example, the 2010 Census played a crucial role in determining the allocation of $16.3 billion of federal resources to our state for programs that directly impacted children by fighting hunger and poverty, and ensuring that schools have enough teachers and lunches. Even highway funds are affected. That’s why getting an accurate census count is essential to the well-being of all our state’s children – regardless of citizenship status. If we fail to count a significant proportion of children in the US, 100% of children will face the consequences.

In the 2010 Census, it is estimated that 9,000 Hispanic and Latino children were undercounted in North Carolina. Asking about citizenship is almost certain to drive that undercount much higher. Because Congress relies on census data to allocate funds, it is imperative they know precisely how many children to plug into the equation.

Congress should reject Secretary Ross’ proposal to add a citizenship question to the census. It is an unnecessary question that could have serious negative consequences for all children in North Carolina – whether or not their parents are immigrants.