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Protesters hold signs at a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after their ruling on the census was handed down on Thursday, June 27, 2019. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

'The Damage Has Been Done': Despite Court Ruling, Experts Say Trump Succeeded in Making Immigrant Communities Fearful of Census

"We came here to work, just to work, and it is better to keep the door closed," one undocumented immigrant said

Julia Conley

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the Trump administration's attempt to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census, rights advocates said Friday that the damage to immigrant communities across the country is likely already done.

The administration had been planning to add the question, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" to the ten-year survey, a move which critics feared would result in an undercount that could be significant enough result in federal funding cuts for marginalized communities and the loss of representation in Congress. President Donald Trump had argued the question was needed to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act—reasoning the court found "contrived."

"Whether the citizenship question is included or not included, there is already a lot of fear instilled in the immigrant community."
—Maricela Rodriguez, California governor's office
After the 5-4 ruling was handed down Thursday, immigrant rights groups and lawmakers quickly set to work encouraging all residents of the U.S. to participate in the census next year, opening their doors to government workers for the ten-year survey that aims to count everyone in the country.

"If you don't participate in the census, Trump wins," California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Thursday.

Newsom's warning came amid heightened fears of the Trump administration and any government employee who might come to an immigrant family's home.

Under Trump's orders, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has already arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants this year. Days before the high court handed down its ruling the president had threatened to begin ICE raids in several cities as part of a plan to arrest and deport "millions" of undocumented immigrants, before walking back his threat.   

"Really, the damage in terms of creating fear around the census has been done," Maricela Rodriguez, Newson's civic engagement director, told the New York Times. "Whether the citizenship question is included or not included, there is already a lot of fear instilled in the immigrant community."

As Jose A. Del Real reported in the Times, many residents in Los Angeles's predominantly Latino MacArthur Park neighborhood do not plan to answer their doors to census takers, citing the fear of ICE raids.

"We came here to work, just to work, and it is better to keep the door closed," Pedro, a 50-year-old resident who is an undocumented immigrant, told the Times.

"The very people who are being told by activists to keep their doors closed if ICE agents pay a visit are also being told to open their doors for government census workers, so they can be counted," wrote Del Real.

The months-long court battle over the census question—in which evidence suggested that the administration had actually sought to add the question to give an electoral advantage to "Republicans and non-Hispanic whites"—has also contributed to intensified distrust of the government.

"The damage has been done already just with conversation that's been going on around along with the citizenship question," Julio Rivera, census manager for the Latino advocacy group the NALEO Educational Fund, told the ABC affiliate WTNH in Connecticut. "There's been fear that's been struck into communities."

The advocacy group Voto Latino called on immigrant community members to spread information about the census and encourage one another to answer the government survey, arguing that making their presence known will result in greater political power for marginalized people.

"The purpose of even suggesting a citizenship question was to instill fear into our gente," the group tweeted. "It's more important than ever that we discuss the census among us and use it to consolidate our power!"

The National Organization for Women (NOW) also pledged to engage with immigrant communities and spread information about answering the census.

"We need to rebuild trust in the census, reach out to immigrant communities and reassure them that they can participate in the census without fear," said NOW President Toni Van Pelt in a statement. "NOW will not let our guard down until this discriminatory, dangerous measure is finally, definitively, defeated. We will stand up for full representation, and demand that the U.S. Census count every person in America—not just the ones Republicans want to vote."

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