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Census data is the gold standard, immigration questions would tarnish it

Emily Campbell
Chief Executive Officer
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March 26, 2018
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The research team at The Center for Community Solutions frequently fields questions about community conditions and our go-to source for information is data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. Census data has all the qualities of a good friend: it is trustworthy, dependable, and interesting.

The biggest threat comes from misguided recommendations to ask questions about legal immigrant status.

Since policymakers, researchers and community leaders rely so heavily on Census data, we need that data to provide as fair and accurate a count as possible. Unfortunately, there are proposals circulating in Washington which would weaken the 2020 Census and the more extensive data the Census Bureau provides annually in its American Community Survey (ACS). The biggest threat comes from misguided recommendations to ask questions about legal immigrant status.

Census data not only determines how we are represented in Washington, it helps determine where more than $400 billion in federal funding goes each year. The Census Bureau, state and local partners work hard to encourage people to respond if they are randomly selected to fill out a survey. The better the response rate, the better the information available. Anything that discourages a household from responding to Census questionnaires makes census data less reliable, and can threaten our ability to compile and analyze information for small geographies at the local level, such as by Cleveland Ward or Ohio legislative district.

Anything that discourages a household from responding to Census questionnaires makes census data less reliable

April 1 is the deadline for the Census Bureau to submit the questions to Congress in preparation for Census 2020. Any recommendations to ask questions about legal immigrant status are misguided. This would undermine data collection efforts, while providing little useful data and could impact information available in every community across the country.

There is a difference between immigration status (whether someone was born in the U.S.) and legal status (how the individual entered the country or what type of visa they hold). The American Community Survey already asks about place of birth, country of origin and when an immigrant came to the U.S. This information is useful to quantify conditions facing individuals who recently arrived in this country, and to understand the composition of communities and their possible needs.

The Census Bureau reported “unprecedented” levels of concern from focus group participants about the confidentiality of data they provide.

Asking about legal status would be overly intrusive, and could lead some households to provide false answers which would jeopardize the quality and usefulness of all of the data. The Census Bureau reported “unprecedented” levels of concern from focus group participants about the confidentiality of data they provide. There is the danger that traditionally marginalized populations will be less likely to participate in the census, causing undercounts of certain racial and ethnic groups, people with lower incomes and those living in unstable housing arrangements. This question could jeopardize the accuracy of the entire Census, leaving policymakers, funders and community organizations with bad information on which to base decisions. We need a fair and accurate Census. Without it, Ohio may not be appropriately represented, federal funding could flow away from communities that truly need it and Community Solutions’ community profiles would be nearly blank.

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