An early end to the census would likely hurt Louisiana

Critics say Trump’s latest move is strictly for political gain

Census Latino
A Spanish-language flyer advertising the 2020 Census is distributed to Latino communities in Louisiana by the advocacy group Puentes New Orleans. (Courtesy of Puentes New Orleans).

President Donald Trump has ordered the Census Bureau to end its counting operations a month early, a move that would potentially lead to an undercount of Latino and immigrant populations and shift political power to Republicans and white people.

The Census Bureau announced Monday that it will end all counting efforts on Sept. 30, rather than the previously planned end date of Oct. 31. The efforts being ended include critical door-knocking efforts and all collection responses by phone, web and mail.

The bureau announced the changes in a statement posted on its website, saying, in part, “A team of experts are examining methodologies and options to be employed for this purpose.”

According to census counts as of Wednesday, roughly 4 out of 10 U.S. households have still not been counted, which means a full and accurate count will be a  difficult goal for the bureau to achieve in less than two months. 

Latino Census flyer
The English-language version of a flyer advertising the 2020 Census from Latino advocacy group Puentes New Orleans. (Courtesy of Puentes New Orleans).

The bureau uses door-knocking and in-person interviews to count those who do not complete the self-response forms — and that often includes populations that have historically been undercounted.

Democrats in Congress, such as Rep. Carolyn Maloney, and various advocates for an accurate count have voiced concerns that Trump is pressuring the bureau to stop counting sooner than planned in order to benefit Republicans when House seats are reapportioned and voting districts are redrawn. Districts, which determine each state’s number of Electoral College votes, are redrawn based on census numbers every 10 years.

California, for instance, typically votes Democratic in presidential and congressional elections, and is poised to lose at least one House seat in the next reapportionment due to an undercount of its immigrant population, which is the largest in the country.

“Trump has been weaponizing the Census against immigrants generally and the undocumented Latino population specifically,” said Salvador Longoria, who heads the nonprofit Latino advocacy group Puentes New Orleans. “This is another one of his many ploys and antics.”

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the census, concluding that the administration was trying to suppress immigrants’ census responses by using the “contrived” claim that it wanted to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Last month Trump then signed an executive order last month to exclude undocumented residents from the census count, prompting lawsuits from the ACLU, Legal Defense Fund and others.

“I strongly support President Trump’s decision to exclude illegal aliens from the Executive Branch’s Census Statement,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican representing Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District. “This is significant for proper congressional apportionment and the integrity of our elections. American voting rights and American congressional representation belong to American citizens.”

The U.S. Constitution mandates the census as a full count of the country’s population without regard to citizenship. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment states: “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.”

“It’s a complete attack on immigrants,” Longoria said. “It’s already a challenge to get our people to sign up for a census.”

But all Louisianans would suffer from a Latino undercount, Longoria pointed out, because an undercount of any population typically leads to lower levels of federal funding for an entire community or state.

Spanish census flyer
A Spanish-language flyer advertising the 2020 Census is distributed to Latino communities in Louisiana by the advocacy group Puentes New Orleans. (Courtesy of Puentes New Orleans).

Population numbers affect the amount of federal money allocated to a particular district, parish, town or community. Places with higher recorded populations typically receive higher amounts of federal funding for things such as roads, schools, hospitals and welfare services. Census figures can impact countless other things from the number of jobs in a town to the number of fire hydrants in a certain neighborhood. 

Janea Jamison, the Count Me In campaign director at the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, which focuses on civic engagement in communities of color across Louisiana, said in a Wednesday press release that in this state, “every time someone goes uncounted, Louisiana loses out on $2,291.”

Ranked 45th in the nation, Louisiana remains behind most other states in its 2020 Census response rating.

To respond to the 2020 Census, visit my2020Census.gov or call (844) 330-2020.

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.