The U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census every 10 years, counting all people living in America – whether they are citizens or not. An accurate count allows the federal government to fairly allocate key sources of federal funding, including education and infrastructure dollars. This count also determines the number of representatives each state has in Congress. As elected officials responsible for representing Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, we know how important it is that all of our residents are counted to ensure we get our fair share and proper representation.
However, the Trump administration is taking steps that would undermine the accuracy of the 2020 census, hurting Philadelphia and Pennsylvania when it comes to federal funding and representation. In an apparent effort to undercount residents who are not citizens – like green card holders, students, and people with work visas – the administration is seeking to add a question to the census that will ask respondents whether or not they are a U.S. citizen.
This might seem innocuous at first glance. But, study after study shows that immigrants are less likely to respond to surveys like the census if they are asked about their citizenship status. Our immigrant residents fear that if they give this information to the federal government, they will be deported – even if they have legal residency status. Their fear is understandable.
Immigrants are key members of our communities. They open new businesses, creating job opportunities for Philadelphians. Immigrant business owners account for a significant amount of commercial corridor business growth in Philadelphia. All of that growth leads to tax revenue for the city, state, and federal governments. The most recent data show that Philadelphia’s immigrants paid more than $6 billion in taxes in one year alone, while receiving fewer benefits than other taxpayers receive.
Philadelphia and Pennsylvania stand to lose a great deal if our immigrant population is undercounted. Nearly 7 percent of all Pennsylvanians are noncitizens. Philadelphia has the highest proportion of noncitizens of any county in the commonwealth – nearly 8 percent of its residents are noncitizens. If these individuals are not counted, our city, our commonwealth, and similar communities across the country will be negatively impacted.
That’s why the Census Bureau removed the question about citizenship status in 1960 – nearly 60 years ago. Republican and Democratic administrations alike have consistently refused to add this type of question to the census, because they have studied the evidence and know this question would depress participation and jeopardize an accurate census. In fact, a group of six former census directors from both parties recently sent a letter to the Trump administration warning it against adding this question because it would “invalidate” the results.
We will not sit idly by while the administration tries to undermine the integrity of the census.
Pennsylvania will sue to stop the citizenship question from being added and undermining the 2020 census. The City of Philadelphia will join this suit. Whether or not you agree with the actions of the Trump administration, the simple truth is that adding this question at this late stage, in this rushed manner, and without proper testing is both bad policy and illegal. It is arbitrary and capricious, and violates the administration’s constitutional obligation to ensure the accuracy of the 2020 census.
Additionally, we are taking steps to ensure that all Philadelphians participate in the census, regardless of their citizenship status. By conducting direct outreach to the communities that would be most impacted, we’re working to make sure that noncitizens understand their rights and the importance of the census, and that there will be no adverse consequences to completing the census and doing so accurately.
As the attorney general of Pennsylvania and the mayor of Philadelphia, it’s our job to stand up for all Philadelphians and all Pennsylvanians. It is vital that the 2020 census be conducted fairly, accurately, and in accordance with the law so that we receive the representation and federal resources that we deserve.
Josh Shapiro is attorney general of Pennsylvania. Jim Kenney is the mayor of Philadelphia.