Census question plan worries mayors
Incorrect count may lead to loss of funds for Somerton, San Luis
The mayors of Somerton and San Luis, Ariz., are afraid their cities could be out federal or state dollars if the Census Bureau asks people about their citizenship status in the questionnaire for the 2020 population count.
The Census Bureau announced recently that the Justice Department had petitioned to include that question on the form sent to households as part of the population count done every decade.
The amount of revenue cities receive from the federal and state governments depends in part on their populations, and Somerton Mayor Jose Yepez says the citizenship question could prompt some residents to refrain from answering the form.
“That could stop people from being counted and ultimately that would affect all of us. The census is done to count the people who are living in each community, not to find out if they’re American or Mexican citizens. The amount of funds we receive depends on the numbers that come out of the census.”
Somerton has nearly 16,000 residents now, said Yepez, and he and other city officials expect that number to rise to 19,000 or 20,000 by 2020, when the new census is done.
Citizens or not, all residents contribute taxes to the city, he said, and an undercounted population hurts the city’s ability to provide an adequate level of services to them.
In San Luis, city officials expect the actual population to reach 38,000 by 2020, but Mayor Gerardo Sanchez fears the citizenship question will cause the census to fall short of that number.
“With that question, they are going to scare off people off from filling out the census form. I would ask them to fill it out. The funds that are given to us based on the population number are resources that are needed to bring them services.”
Sanchez said San Luis is in a unique situation, given its location on the border. Millions of people cross between San Luis and
Mexico each year, he said, but while those temporary visitors don’t figure into the city’s official population, they nonetheless uses services that the city must somehow finance.
The citizenship question was last included in the census in 1950. In asking that it be reinstated, the Justice Department says the question would help enforce a section of the Voting Rights Acts that seeks to prevent voting rights violations.
Sanchez called that rationale an excuse.
“How I see it is that they’re going ... to try to frighten people into not being counted. They know that if the numbers are lower, there will be fewer needs in the community. They want to lower the population numbers and be able to say there are fewer needs in the poor communities.”
Sanchez is calling on residents to take part in census so that the city has an accurate count. If they don’t feel comfortable answering the citizenship question, he said, they should leave it blank.
Several states have filed suit to try to prevent the question from appearing on the form.