Citizenship concerns remain after Census Bureau visit
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A visit from the head of the U.S. Census Bureau hasn’t eased concerns about security and a possible citizenship question on next year’s questionnaire in Utah.
Director Steven Dillingham spoke to more than 100 community leaders in Salt Lake City on Tuesday as the agency prepares the 2020 census.
His visit comes as the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a possible question about whether a person is a citizen of the United States.
Dillingham dodged a question about how citizenship could affect the count, instead encouraging everyone to participate in the survey. “Everyone matters, and everyone should be counted,” he told the crowd.
Next year will mark the first time the survey is largely online. Lawmakers said they were wary of the new format after a March test by the U.S. Government Accountability Office revealed more than a thousand system weaknesses.
Responding to security concerns, Dillingham said the agency working to improve the system.
He said the agency is barred from releasing identifying information, and people who don’t want to complete the survey online can call in or mail their answers.
“We are not asking, ‘Are you here legally or illegally?’ We’re just asking, ‘Are you a citizen?’” Cathy Lacy, a regional director of the Census Bureau who appeared with Dillingham said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
Many noncitizens live in the country legally, including people with visas, those working toward citizenship and refugees. A count of all long-term residents is required by the Constitution.
But many in Utah’s Latino communities fear the citizenship question could put undocumented residents at risk of deportation, said Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas, a Utah-based immigrant rights group.
“I think the concern is very much valid,” Garza told the Deseret News.
State lawmakers earlier this year decided not to set aside a proposed $500,000 toward a public awareness campaign that would encourage participation in the count. Local leaders said they fear an undercount of Native American and immigrant communities in Utah due to a lack of awareness and internet access.
Utah in 2010 saw a 75% response rate, one point higher than the nationwide average. The federal government relies on the once-a-decade questionnaire to allocate money for schools, road and social services. The count also helps determine voting districts and how many congressional representatives a state will have.