Trump memo boosts cen­sus fears among un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MANNY RAMOS, STAFF RE­PORTER Manny Ramos is a corps mem­ber in Re­port for Amer­ica, a not-for-profit jour­nal­ism pro­gram that aims to bol­ster Sun-Times cov­er­age of is­sues af­fect­ing Chicago’s South and West sides. mramos@sun­ | @_ManuelRamo­s_

This past week, the cen­sus work­ers spent a day knock­ing on doors in Chicago and Cook County.

Thurs­day’s one-day test sets the stage for when door-knock­ers re­turn in force, ev­ery­where, start­ing Aug. 11.

The door-knock­ing stage usu­ally is cause for cel­e­bra­tion. It means the be­gin­ning of the end, as cen­sus work­ers start vis­it­ing ad­dresses that had not yet re­sponded on­line or by mail. It’s the last step to get­ting a full, com­plete count for the 2020 Cen­sus.

But a shadow was cast over the bureau in the last week be­cause of a me­moran­dum is­sued by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that at­tempts to pre­vent un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents from be­ing counted.

Trump’s memo di­rects Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wil­bur Ross to ex­clude un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents from be­ing used for reap­por­tion­ing con­gres­sional seats.

Maria Fitzsim­mons, cen­sus di­rec­tor for the Illi­nois Coali­tion for Im­mi­grant and Refugee Rights, said Trump’s memo is cre­at­ing anx­i­ety in Chicago’s im­mi­grant neigh­bor­hoods — ar­eas al­ready deemed hard to count.

The group has worked in the last week to ease fears, but it hasn’t been easy, with so many lin­ger­ing mis­con­cep­tions about the once-adecade count, Fitzsim­mons said.

The memo’s le­gal­ity has been chal­lenged by sev­eral law­suits, in­clud­ing one joined by the city of Chicago, and it also raises ques­tions about how the memo’s di­rec­tive can be fol­lowed, since the Supreme Court al­ready barred the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion from in­clud­ing a ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion in the 2020 Cen­sus form.

“There is no mech­a­nism in place to even carry out what they want to do” with­out the ci­ti­zen­ship ques­tion, said Fitzsim­mons. “You have to count ev­ery per­son. De­spite what this ad­min­is­tra­tion says, they are hu­man be­ings and de­serve to be counted.”

The Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires a head count of the “whole num­ber of per­sons in each state” ev­ery 10 years. Among other things, the tally is used to di­vide 435 seats in the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives among the

50 states. That, in turn, de­ter­mines Elec­toral Col­lege votes.

Trump ar­gues in his memo that the Con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t de­fine “whole num­ber of per­sons” and un­doc­u­mented peo­ple should be ex­cluded as they are liv­ing “only tem­po­rar­ily in the United States.” Fitzsim­mons crit­i­cized that view, say­ing many un­doc­u­mented per­sons have lived in the coun­try for years and are rais­ing fam­i­lies here.

Some house­holds with un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents have told Fitzsim­mons fill­ing out the cen­sus is not worth the risk of be­ing de­ported.

“We have told our [U.S. Cen­sus Bureau] re­gional of­fice that ICIRR is putting its rep­u­ta­tion on the line and it bet­ter make sure it’s safe for all im­mi­grants to fill it out,”

Fitzsim­mons said.

That re­gional cen­sus of­fice de­clined to com­ment on how this memo would af­fect Chicago di­rectly or if cen­sus tak­ers are be­ing trained dif­fer­ently when en­coun­ter­ing peo­ple in heav­ily im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties.

In­stead, it shared an of­fi­cial state­ment Steven Dilling­ham, the bureau’s na­tional di­rec­tor, gave be­fore the House Over­sight and Re­form Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day about Trump’s memo.

“To be clear, this does not change the Cen­sus Bureau’s plans for field data col­lec­tion across the na­tion,” Dilling­ham said at the hear­ing. “We will con­tinue full steam ahead with our mis­sion of count­ing ev­ery per­son, count­ing them once and count­ing them in the right place.”

But Dilling­ham stopped short of de­nounc­ing the memo and said the bureau is ex­am­in­ing if a method­ol­ogy for “pro­duc­ing a spe­cial tab­u­la­tion for ap­por­tion­ment” can be made in de­ter­min­ing who is un­doc­u­mented.

Dur­ing that same hear­ing, four for­mer Cen­sus Bureau di­rec­tors said Trump’s memo vi­o­lated fed­eral laws and was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The memo puts heav­ily Latino and im­mi­grant dis­tricts at risk of los­ing fed­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Illi­nois is al­ready pro­jected to lose one con­gres­sional seat be­cause of pop­u­la­tion loss.

If the memo is some­how im­ple­mented, it al­most guar­an­tees the loss of two con­gres­sional seats, said U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” Gar­cia, D-Ill.

It also would change the dis­trict bound­aries and af­fect fund­ing for day care, ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams in schools, health care and hous­ing, Gar­cia said, adding: “The Latino com­mu­nity stands to lose the most in terms of re­sources and rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

Gar­cia doesn’t be­lieve the pres­i­dent’s or­der will be ex­e­cuted, but rather the memo is used to stoke fear around fill­ing out the cen­sus.

“This is a rad­i­cal, xeno­pho­bic, anti-im­mi­grant pro­posal . . . to scare peo­ple and in­tim­i­date peo­ple into the shad­ows by sup­press­ing cen­sus par­tic­i­pa­tion and dis­en­fran­chis­ing peo­ple,” Gar­cia said.

The last day to com­plete the cen­sus is Sept. 30. Res­i­dents can fill out the cen­sus by mail, on­line at

my2020­cen­, or by call­ing 844330-2020.


A ve­hi­cle drives through the Lit­tle Vil­lage neigh­bor­hood in June to re­mind peo­ple to re­spond to the cen­sus. Lo­cal of­fi­cials have been try­ing lots of ways to en­cour­age cen­sus par­tic­i­pa­tion, but the re­sponse rate re­mains lower than they’d like.

Steven Dilling­ham

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