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Census Question About US Citizenship Could Affect Oregon Funding

<p>Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Critics say the citizenship question on the census will inhibit responses from immigrant-heavy communities that are worried the information will be used to target them for possible deportation.</p>

J. Scott Applewhite

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Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. Critics say the citizenship question on the census will inhibit responses from immigrant-heavy communities that are worried the information will be used to target them for possible deportation.

The U.S. Supreme Court is deciding whether or not a question about U.S. citizenship will be on the 2020 census. That question could affect federal funding for Oregon.

Many people believe the citizenship question will result in an undercount for non-citizens, and their households, if they refuse to respond.

Jason Jurjevich is acting director of Portland State University’s population research center and an associate professor of urban studies and planning.

“Five of six Census Bureau directors serving under Republican and Democratic presidential administrations are opposed to the question, as well as a lot of policymakers, academics and elected officials,” Jurjevich said, “in particular because when we add more questions to the form, it creates a situation where people tend to drop off in response rates.”

He said accurate census data helps states get federal funding.

“It is one of those things that is critically important to ensuring that we get our fair share in Oregon. And we also ensure that everyone is counted so that we can equitably distribute resources to the population,” Jurjevich said.

The funding can go toward institutions like hospitals and schools.

“Oregon gets about $13.6 billion a year in federal funding that’s tied to census data,” he said. “That averages out to about $3,200 a year in federal funding per Oregonian.”  

Jurjevich compiled a variety of data about the upcoming census on his website. Among that data, Jurjevich laid out what specific communities in Oregon could be affected by the citizenship question. 

“When we crunched the data, it showed that roughly a half a million Oregonians — or about one in nine — live with at least one non-citizen,” Jurjevich said. 

Jurjevich said children, who are already historically undercounted in census data, especially could be affected by the citizenship question. He estimated that one in five Oregonian children under the age of 9 live in a non-citizenship household.

People of color make up the majority of people living with non-citizens, Jurjevich said. Almost 80 percent of people living with non-citizens are people of color, despite making up only 24 percent of the state’s population.

“The question really has the potential to create a politic of invisibility,” he said, “particularly for Oregonians of color.”

Causa, an Oregon immigrant rights organization, agrees that the citizenship question could suppress non-citizen involvement.

"Asking about citizenship status will certainly depress census participation among immigrant households," said Ivan Hernandez of Causa. "That would lead to an undercount of immigrants and communities of color, which would have major implications for the way political power and federal funding are shared over the next decade."

The U.S. Supreme Court must come to a decision on the question by June.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.