As I mentioned yesterday in Leading Off, the Trump administration decided to end the 2020 United States census four weeks sooner than expected, leaving only six weeks to get the Constitutionally mandated, once-a-decade headcount right. Moving up the deadline, however, basically ensures that the Census Bureau won’t get the count right, and Dallas may stand to be disproportionately affected by the move.
For one, the region is home to the fourth largest population of undocumented immigrants in the nation, and the deadline change will only make it more difficult to track down a population already fearful of being noticed. Secondly, communities of color tend to be undercounted during censuses, and Dallas is a minority-majority city. A severe under count could affect Dallas in many ways. Here’s one: according to a report in the Dallas Observer, a mere 1 percent undercount could cause Dallas County to lose around $40 million a year in funding.
Undercounting the undocumented population could be particularly devastating. Undocumented immigrants still use area hospitals and send their children to local schools, two of the sectors that could lose out on potential funding if the census numbers come in short of reality.
“We don’t have the capacity to provide for the population that we have now,” state Rep. Carl Sherman told the Observer. “We know we’re growing, and this will only create more of a burden on a system that needs expansion.”
A number of activists and political observers quoted in the Observer piece believe that’s precisely the point:
“We feel like this is part of the Trump administration’s ongoing effort to discount immigrants in America and to deprive them of their right to political power and their fair share of federal funding,” said Sarah Brannon, the managing attorney with the American Civil Liberty Union’s Voting Rights Project.
The 2020 Census was always going to be a historically challenging one. The pandemic has made it dangerous for census takers to go door to door, and shutdowns have limited the Census Bureau’s ability to unitize traditional outreach methods, such as church gatherings, to boost participation. The Trump administration has also attempted to tag on a question about citizenship (later thrown out by the courts), and it is seeking data on undocumented immigrants through the census (currently being challenged in the courts).
The apparent intent of the president’s new deadline is to allow the Census Bureau to produce numbers before the end of 2020 rather than June 2021, which is the pushed-back deadline approved by the House of Representatives earlier this year after the onset of the pandemic. Southern Methodist University professor Cal Jillson, however, believes the deadline is part of a broader strategy to manipulate the census results by suppressing the count for communities of color, citing that, in Texas, 70 percent of Anglo voters lean conservative.
“If you’re not counting Hispanics and Asians in their full numbers, the Anglo districts are spreading out and becoming a little larger,” Jillson told the Dallas Observer. “It’s an advantage to Republicans on the margin and a disadvantage to Democrats – which is the plan, right?”