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As Trump administration undermines the census, local leaders encourage Rhode Islanders to participate



Providence County is the only location in the United States that will be conducting a test run ahead of the 2020 Census.

Gabriela Domenzain

The test run, said political and community leaders, is underfunded and under-advertised, putting the census at risk of failure. A failed census could lead to Federal under-funding of important programs like police, fire, medical, housing, etc, and may even cost Rhode Island one of its two seats in the United States House of Representatives.

“At this time ten years ago, there were five fully funded end-to-end tests [conducted] around the country, with representative samples,” said Gabriela Domenzain, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, “Today there’s one, underfunded. The census will fail.”

Also at issue is the Donald Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 census questionnaire. That question is not on the test questionnaire received by thousands of Rhode Islanders in Providence County over the last few days.

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John Marion

“We’re concerned that steps are being taken to intentionally keep folks from being counted,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. The citizenship question hasn’t been included on the short-form census since 1960, noted Elorza. “We’re here to ask the Federal Government… to listen to Mayors in Providence County and reverse your decision to include the citizenship question. Including the citizenship question is reckless, as it has never been tested, it is unnecessary, as it is already included in American Community Survey, and it’s also playing politics on something that is a Constitutional requirement.”

Mayor Elorza, as well as Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien, have been hearing from people who are both surprised to have received a questionnaire and worried about the consequences of answering the citizenship question in 2020.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island said that due to funding limitations imposed by Congress, there were zero advertising dollars available to inform the public.  Marion encouraged everyone to respond to the survey as soon as possible but also noted that leaving the citizenship question off the test run questionnaire means the question is being set up to fail.

Steven Brown

“We’re concerned about the citizenship question for two reasons,” said Marion. “First, we know it’s going to drive down participation, particularly in immigrant communities like Central Falls. Article One of the Constitution requires a count of the whole number of persons; anything that drives down turnout goes against the Constitution. One immediate result of that is [that] it’s going to cost more to conduct the census.”

Not filling out the questionnaire means that people have to be hired to go door-to-door to ask census questions.

“Secondly,” continued Marion, “if they include the citizenship question, fewer people will fill it out and we’re going to have bad information and that’s going to lead to bad public policy. It’s invisible to us but census data are the basis of decisions of government at all levels… in fact, the very first thing the census does is they send the data to the states to do redistricting…”

“The day after it was announced that the citizenship question was going to be put on the form, we got a ton of calls from people at our office from people who had just received the 2018 census,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “They all thought the question about citizenship was on this form, they were confused, they didn’t want to answer the question, they didn’t want to fill out the form.”

Brown believes that the Trump administration is not botching the census, instead he believes the administration is “deliberately undermining it.”

“There is no question whatsoever that if this question is on the 2020 form there will be many people fearful of filling it out,” said Brown.

Below is all the video from the press conference, in order:

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa:

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza:

Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien:

Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee:

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island:

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo:

Gabriela Domenzain, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University:

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island:

James Diossa

Donald Grebien

Daniel McKee

Gina Raimondo

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.