Native American organizations “alarmed” by decision to end U.S. Census count early

The Trump administration has done a lot to undermine our core democratic institutions and values. Trump has politicized the U.S. Justice Department. He’s undermined citizen confidence in our voting system and the free press. He’s used his office for personal gain. He’s doled out pardons as political favors. And now he’s messing with the U.S. Census.

His administration is shutting down the Census one month early, a decision that will lead to undercounts of black, Indigenous and other people of color. It will have significant consequences, from Congressional representation to school funding.

A group of Native-led organizations said they are “alarmed and concerned” about the decision, calling the action “unwarranted and irresponsible.” In a joint statement, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC), said:

… the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it is ending its Census 2020 field operations on September 30, 2020, despite severely low response rates in historically undercounted areas, including in many tribal areas across the country. …

An accurate Census count is essential to ensure fair and accurate representation of all Americans, including this country’s First Americans, because Census data is used for reapportionment of congressional seats and in redistricting to elect representatives at every level of government.

The Census faced problems before the coronavirus hit, reported NBC News. “The initial company printing the forms went bankrupt,” it said. “There were cybersecurity weaknesses as the census moved online for the first time, hiring shortfalls, cutbacks to crucial operational testing, and the Trump administration’s failed attempt to add a citizenship question disrupted the all-too-important head count.”

According to Slate: “The original July deadline had been extended earlier this year to the end of October due to the coronavirus. Senior census officials had already warned completing the count even in that time frame was no longer possible. Now, the time horizon will get even shorter.”

According to the New York Times: “the Census Bureau now has to accomplish what officials have said it cannot do: accurately count the nation’s hardest-to-reach residents — nearly four of every 10 households — in just six weeks.” Four former Census Bureau directors issued a statement warning the shortened timeline would “’result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country,’ and urged the administration to restore the lost weeks.”

Trump has made other efforts to undermine the Census. He tried to add a citizenship test and remove undocumented people from Census totals. The decision to end the Census early would hit Black and Brown communities and young children the hardest,” according to an email from the group Common Cause. “… an undercount will mean fewer public resources — like schools and firetrucks — and less political representation for people already on the margins.”

An article in Politico suggests the ulterior motives behind the change. Trump is stepping up efforts to remove undocumented people from the Census count, it said. “Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham now says the data will be sent to the president by the end of the year — and not next spring, when Joe Biden could be in the Oval Office.”

New York Magazine cited Julie Menin, New York City’s census director.

“This is really an insidious ploy to have cities that have large immigrant communities in particular to lose congressional representation and to have that representation moved to red Republican areas,” Menin said. “That’s what this whole battle is about.”

 

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