Urging New Yorkers to Be Counted in 2020 Census

Panel on the 2020 Census held April 3 at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Left to right: Errol Louis, Bitta Mostofi, J. Phillip Thompson, Marisa Lago (Photo by Karen Pennar for Voices of NY)

New York City officials today urged all New Yorkers to be sure to stand up and be counted in the 2020 decennial Census, and to not let anti-immigrant sentiment and fear-mongering drive immigrants, including the undocumented, underground. Thirty eight percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born, and the majority are naturalized citizens. An estimated 560,000 city residents are believed to be undocumented, and 1 million New Yorkers live in “mixed status” households – that is, households in which at least one member is undocumented.

The city will continue to fight the inclusion of a question about citizenship on the census form, and on April 3 joined in a suit filed by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to block adoption of the question on the census.

The inclusion of the question is a tactic of the Trump administration meant precisely to have a chilling effect on participation of immigrants in the census, and to deliberately penalize cities with large immigrant populations, said J. Phillip Thompson, NYC deputy mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives.

NYC “will be active and aggressive in every way we can around this issue,” vowed Thompson. But it’s important for every New Yorker to realize that not participating in the count of city residents, he and other officials said, would end up hurting everyone. To be sure that communities across the city understand the consequences, education is important. “The census is so critical to the ability for the city to best serve all of our residents,” said Bitta Mostofi, acting commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. City officials, immigrant communities and the press, she said, will have to ensure that “those residents have the opportunity and the understanding of how to exercise their voices in 2020.” Article 1, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates a decennial census.

The stakes for NYC are huge. Indeed, the consequences of an undercount can be far-reaching and long-lasting, since federal funds and voter redistricting are based on the results of the decennial census. Although results are updated periodically through sampling at the community level from one year to the next, the numbers obtained during the census provide a foundation for decision-making for the entire decade that follows. Marisa Lago, director of NYC’s Department of City Planning, told community and ethnic reporters that everything from school breakfast and lunch programs to road maintenance and bridge repairs are affected by the count. And demographic data, based on census data, conveys important information to city planners, said Lago, such as the fact that the Bronx is the fastest growing county in New York state.

A. Peter Lobo of the population division of the city planning department said after the panel that it was impossible to calculate a loss of federal dollars to the city from an undercount of, say, 100,000 residents, since the distribution of the undercount across communities was most likely to be variable with differential impacts. Both Mostofi and Thompson expressed the view that NYC’s population has consistently been undercounted in the past.

Thompson, Mostofi and Lago discussed the stakes for New Yorkers of the 2020 Census at a panel held April 3 at the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Joining the city officials on the dais and moderating the discussion was Errol Louis, NY1 political correspondent and adjunct professor at the CUNY J-School.On March 25, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross instructed census officials to include a question about citizenship in the 2020 Census, and the news quickly fanned concern about whether immigrants, already threatened by a hostile administration, will participate fully. The question has not even been tested, noted the panelists, and the introduction of new questions on a survey is generally tested prior to implementation.

New York’s AG Schneiderman is leading the suit filed April 3 by 18 attorneys general, six cities, and the bipartisan U.S. Conference of Mayors. At a briefing announcing the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Schneiderman said: “With immigrant communities already living in fear, demanding citizenship status would drive them into the shadows, leading to a major undercount that threatens billions in federal funding for New York and our fair representation in Congress and the Electoral College. I’m proud to lead this coalition in the fight for a full and fair Census.”

Mostofi and the other panelists noted that census data is private and “anonymized.”

The city’s planning department has just begun an effort to make sure that it has addresses for all New Yorkers. It is in the process of going out to neighborhoods to confirm addresses to which the 2020 Census will be mailed, and has stressed that no names or personal information will be collected. Brochures describing the effort, printed in 10 languages, were distributed at the briefing. People will be going out into the field through the summer with the brochures, looking for addresses such as those of illegal basement apartments in hard-to-count urban areas, said Lago. The census, she said, “doesn’t care” that the apartments are illegal. It’s just critically important to reach everyone, and make sure that eventually, in 2020, everyone is counted.

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  1. Pingback: Center for Community and Ethnic Media – Newsmakers Briefing: The 2020 Census and the Stakes for New York City

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