A lawsuit was filed last year over a decision from the U.S. Commerce Department to add a question about citizenship status to the U.S. Census with both Seattle and Washington State involved. That case is currently winding its way through the court system: Back in January, our colleagues at Vox report, one federal judge ordered the question removed from the census, and the case is now being heard by the Supreme Court.
The concern is that if the census asks about citizenship, some United States residents won’t respond, making for inaccurate census data. That has major, far-reaching implications: That data will be used to determine congressional representation for the next decade—the 2020 census got Washington an extra seat—and affects federal grants and a wide-ranging amount of research.
The counts can affect funding for programs like Head Start, SNAP, Medicare, and Medicaid. It’s also an essential tool for local governments in figuring out where to distribute services; the United States Conference of Mayors called it an effort to “politicize” the census.
With the case still tied up in court and a year left to go until the census starts, the Regional Census Fund, a collaboration between Seattle, King County, and nonprofit Seattle Foundation, will allocate $1 million to community organizations in the area in preparation, including outreach—reaching “historically uncounted populations,” like communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and those experiencing homelessness. King County Executive Dow Constantine put it in a statement, “provide trusted community partners with the support and resources they need to help ensure a complete, accurate count of all people who call King County home.”
Applications for funding will be available soon. Funds, administered by the Seattle Foundation, will be available in summer 2019.
Half the funding—$500,000—came from the Seattle Foundation. The city and county each kicked in $250,000.
As of 2014, around 250,000 undocumented immigrants were living in Washington State, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Immigrants account for 22 percent of King County’s population, according to the county. This means an inaccurate count, especially among extremely visible deportation cases, could seriously throw the data.
“Community organizations are best equipped to talk with members within their communities in culturally competent language, and this will be how we lead by following the leadership of our trusted community partners,” explained Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda in a statement.
That means empowering organizations like El Centro de la Raza to do that outreach. “[I]f our communities are not fully counted in the 2020 Census, we will miss out on investments, resources and representation that we need and deserve,” said Estela Ortega, Executive Director of El Centro de la Raza. “But we can only do this in a real partnership that recognizes and works together to overcome our community’s fears and barriers to participate in the Census. This fund is a good example of a good partnership.”
“The Census Bureau’s own research reveals asking people about their citizenship status could significantly undermine its Constitutional mandate: an accurate count of everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status,” explained Ferguson in a statement announcing the suit last year. “If Washington state’s large immigrant population isn’t accurately counted, the impact on our Congressional representation and billions of dollars in federal funds our state receives could be jeopardized.”
The idea of a citizenship question has been broadly rejected amongst local leaders. Last year, all nine members of the Seattle City Council signed onto a letter expressing concerns about the citizenship question, demanding full funding for the 2020 census, and requesting that LGBTQ demographic data be included. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, Washington State Senator Pramila Jayapal, and former Washington State Governor Gary Locke have also spoken out against the question.
“As former President Barack Obama’s Commerce Secretary, I was tasked with overseeing the 2010 Census,” said Locke in a statement on the new fund. “Achieving a complete, safe, and fair census count requires a level of care and dedication that we’re just not seeing from President Trump and his top appointees ... It’s going to take important local partnerships, like the Regional Census Fund, to ensure our communities are counted safely and accurately.”