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Ahead Of Supreme Court Ruling, Florida Republican Reiterates Support For Census Citizenship Question

A Rhode Island resident holds an envelope he received for the 2020 census test run in Providence County.
Hansi Lo Wang / NPR
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Supreme Court will decide this month whether the Trump administration can include a question about citizenship on the 2020 Census, and Florida Republican Congressman Greg Steube says he believes the court will decide to include the controversial query.

Rep. Steube of Florida’s 17th congressional district, the Sarasota area, said Friday on The Florida Roundup that opposition to the citizenship question amounts to "a lot of Democratic political posturing."

"I don’t know why they wouldn't want to know how many citizens are in this country,” he said. 

Controversy has swirled since the Trump administration introduced in late 2017 that it would add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. The Census, conducted every 10 years, determines congressional representation and crucial public funding for communities across the nation. It has never contained a citizenship question.

Federal courts have ruled the move unconstitutional and activists argue that many immigrants will opt out of the tally entirely. 

Steube said he did not agree with activists and former Census Bureau directors who have said the citizenship question is unnecessary and could lead to undercounts and affect apportionment of federal grant funds. 

“I don’t think people aren’t going to fill out an entire census form just based on one question," he said.

Civil rights groups argue that the question is part of a Trump administration strategy to discriminate against immigrants. 

Experts also say the question is part of a plan to redraw the nation's political maps based on citizen, rather than population, numbers. Just last week evidence was found on the hard drive of late GOP strategist Thomas B. Hofeller that showed that the citizenship question was envisioned as a way to benefit the GOP’s drawing of electoral district maps, ultimately resulting in increased Republican representation in Congress and state legislatures. 

The citizenship question has special relevance in Florida, a state with a large immigrant population.

Diana Elliott, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute, said on The Florida Roundup that Florida already has an undercount risk higher than other states and “could be really adversely affected" should the question be included.

She said that many people are already hesitant to participate in the census. A citizenship question would make the situation worse. 

“We’re looking at potentially a 1.5 percent undercount of the total population of Florida,” she said.

In a high-risk scenario, Elliott said that children and minority groups could be undercounted the most, which would affect funding for schools and infrastructure for the next 10 years.

Steube asserted that people who aren’t comfortable filling out the question can simply opt out of answering it altogether.

“It’s not like they are going to be found civilly liable or criminally liable for leaving a question blank," he said. 

But NPR reporter Hansi Lo Wang said on The Florida Roundup that skipping questions on the census can actually result in fines under federal law, although this rarely happens.

Wang said that a more likely scenario is Census Bureau workers knocking on doors, calling phones and sending additional mail to people who did not complete their census forms. 

The Trump administration has also said it supports the citizenship question on the 2020 Census to better enforce the Voting Rights Act by collecting more detailed citizenship data. 

But Wang said “the Voting Rights Act is already being enforced." 

“Voting Rights Act experts say they don’t see a data problem and there is no need for additional citizenship information," he said. "The Census Bureau research shows that if you wanted to get more detailed citizenship data, the way to do it is not to add a citizenship question because there are existing government records that are more accurate and less expensive.” 

Judges from courts in New York, Maryland and California have concluded that the Trump administration's reasoning for including the question is illegitimate. This has led to investigations of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who has defended the question by saying said that immigrants should not worry because Census Bureau employees are “not permitted to reveal [information] to immigration authorities.”

Sec. Ross previously said the question was added through a letter to the Department of Justice, but documents obtained by the House Oversight Committee have shown that he requested the question prior to the letter. 

Ross could be held in contempt of Congress along with Attorney General William Barr after he missed a deadline to comply with subpoenas to hand over documents related to the investigation. Rep. Steube has said he will not vote to hold the two men in contempt of Congress.

Correction: The original version of this story misspelled the name of Diana Elliott. We regret the error.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Aaron Sánchez-Guerra is a recent graduate of North Carolina State University with a BA in English and is a bilingual journalist with a background in covering news on the vast Latino population in North Carolina. His coverage ranges from Central Americans seeking asylum to migrant farmworkers recovering from Hurricane Florence. Aaron is eager to work in South Florida for its proximity to Latin American migration and fast-paced environment of unique news. He is a native of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas of Mexican origin, a Southern adoptee, a lover of Brazilian culture and Portuguese, an avid Latin dancer, and a creative writer.