Advocates rally against census citizenship question ahead of Supreme Court hearings

Activists gathered outside Passaic City Hall to show the strong influence of immigrants in the community as they demand the removal of a citizenship question from the 2020 U.S. Census.

“We are here today to say we count,” said Make the Road New Jersey community organizer Rosa Lopez.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing oral arguments over the inclusion of the question. But there’s fear that it will depress responses from immigrant-heavy communities that are worried the information will be used to target them for possible deportation. The administration argues the question is needed to better enforce the Voting Rights Act and that all information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau is strictly confidential.

President Donald Trump previously tweeted:

“We also need a count that recognizes that people are people. And that people, whatever their status, are here in this country utilizing services,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer.

“If we get an accurate count the funding will follow, schools to accommodate the increase in children. And it’s been documented that the hardest to count demographic group are children between the ages of 0 and 5,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

The census population count determines billions in federal funding for communities, which services are provided and where, along with the number of congressional members sent to Washington to represent each district. Rally organizers Make the Road New Jersey say the Garden State has the third-highest share of immigrants in the country. With two million foreign born New Jersey residents, they say one in three is an immigrant or has an immigrant parent.

“Paterson has the second-largest school district in the state and the city of Passaic has the sixth-largest school district in the state of New Jersey. It’s important that our communities come out. It’s important that our communities are counted,” said Passaic City Councilmember Salim Patel.

“There was a reason why it was stricken after the 1950 count because the accuracy was an issue,” Sayegh said.

The state is waging an all-out mobilization effort to ensure everyone is counted. It created a Complete Count Commission, with smaller grassroots groups in major cities like Paterson and Newark. If the lawsuit fails, their next move is to remind residents they don’t have to answer the question.

Whether the citizenship question makes it on the 2020 census form or not, the groups say they have their work cut out for them over the next year — keeping the momentum going for another 365 days.