As the the 2020 US Census count bears down—along with the deadline for a highly anticipated Supreme Court decision—New Mexico has perhaps more at stake than any other state in the nation.
Complicating matters this year for our state—which, with its many cultures and rural nature, has historically been difficult for counters to accurately assess—is the so-called "citizenship question" the Trump administration wants to slap onto the Census.
Every 10 years, the US Census Bureau attempts to count every person living in the country. The Census is at the heart of the American political process—results are used to distribute political representation at every level of government, including in the US Congress, statehouses, county commissions and city councils. The count is also used to allocate federal funding for programs such as Medicaid and public education.
Trump wants the count to include a question about whether respondents are US citizens. Among his arguments is that it would help enforce Voting Rights Act protections for minorities.
Opponents of the change, including the Census Bureau itself, say the question could lead to a significant undercount due to fears among immigrant families that their responses could put them in jeopardy.
A group of mostly blue states sued Trump in federal court, arguing that the citizenship question is unconstitutional. Now, the country waits for the US Supreme Court to make a final ruling. The justices are set to decide by July 1, the official deadline by which the Census Bureau must begin printing Census forms and mailings.
The verdict could come as early as Thursday.
To add to the suspense, new evidence submitted in a last-minute court filing last week suggests political and racial motives are behind the addition of the citizenship question. The submitted files, authored by Thomas Hofeller, a deceased Republican strategist notorious for gerrymandering and redistricting schemes, include an unpublished 2015 report detailing how adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census could be "advantageous to Republican and Non-Hispanic Whites."
Will these new allegations sway the court? It's hard to tell.
What's certain: The hardest-hit states would be those with large Hispanic populations where an undercount could mean a significant loss in funding and political power. A Harvard study of responses showed that the citizenship question could suppress participation among Hispanic populations by 12%, regardless of immigration status.
In New Mexico, Hispanics made up roughly 50% of the population as of the 2010 Census, and this already is the hardest state to count. That's because of the broad intersection of demographics across the state that are chronically undercounted: Native Americans, people living in rural areas, Hispanics, immigrants, families with children under 6, families below the poverty line, transient people and those distrustful of the government.
Yep, that includes most of us.
This year we can also add anyone who doesn't have secure broadband access to that list, says Robert Rhatigan, associate director of Geospatial and Population Studies at the University of New Mexico, because this is the first time the Census Bureau is attempting to collect the majority of responses online.
"If New Mexico were to be as grossly undercounted as 10 or 11%, we would lose a House representative in the US congress," says Burling, quoting figures from data collected by NM Counts 2020 and the University of New Mexico. "Even if New Mexico is undercounted by 1%, it's over $50 million a year we'd lose, and the state isn't going to be able to make that up."
And what of the fears that the citizenship question could put immigrant families in jeopardy?
Rhatigan says the law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing citizenship data collected about specific individuals with any outside department. Yet he worries: "It's inevitable that the [citizenship question] will drive down participation. … Even if the Supreme Court does not reinstate it, I think a lot of the damage has been done."
Somos Un Pueblo Unido, a grassroots immigrant-led advocacy organization, is also working statewide and locally to reach immigrant communities and get a complete count.
But Executive Director Marcela Díaz tells SFR fears of retaliation are well founded.
A political climate that includes collaboration between local governments and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has led to "an increase in aggressive ICE actions and apprehensions" and a broad distrust of government, she says.
"The truth is that there are reasons to be worried. … There are assurances about [citizenship] information not getting shared, and yet any time we turn on the television or read the newspaper, we see that there was another lawsuit because of a violation of the Constitution," says Díaz, referring to incidences such as the Muslim ban.
Still, "an accurate Census count is extremely important," she says. "We are very motivated as a community to be heard, to be seen, and to be counted."