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Supreme Court Weighs Citizenship Question

Lucas Zucker | Credit: Paul Wellman

Roughly 15 percent of the population of Santa Barbara County is made up of undocumented residents, one of the highest percentages statewide. And if they avoid the upcoming Census because of a citizenship question, it could cost the county upward of $6 million in annual funding. The decision on whether or not to include the question is currently underway. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday about why it should or should not be added. The case arose after more than two dozen states and cities, including California, filed lawsuits to try to remove the question. National news sources report that the justices appear split, with the majority in favor of allowing the question. The Census Bureau says it needs a final ruling by June so it can begin printing the Census on schedule.

There is consensus that adding the question will lead to an undercount. Not only will it dissuade undocumented folk, but it will also discourage mixed-status families from filling it out, said Lucas Zucker, policy and communications director with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE). Undocumented citizens are not worried without reason. Census data was used during WWII to aid the federal government in locating American citizens of Japanese descent to fill incarceration camps. “We should not jeopardize the accuracy of the U.S. Census,” said Congressmember Salud Carbajal, critical of the citizenship inquiry. “Many immigrants who are already living in fear of deportation under the current administration will not participate due to concerns the information provided will be used against them.”

The Census determines the number of representatives each state gets in Congress and the amount of federal funding local governments get for public schools, public parks, and programs such as Medicaid, Head Start, and the National School Lunch Program. The county, in partnership with the Santa Barbara Foundation, created a Complete Count Steering Committee to ensure that every person is counted. “Even if folks are citizens, you are impacted by an undercount,” Zucker said. 

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