Esther Yoon-Ji Kang/WBEZ
Federal officials this week said the 2020 census questionnaire will be printed without a citizenship question. President Trump has insisted that the question be included. Regardless of the outcome, local groups say immigrant communities are already discouraged from participating.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang/WBEZ
Amid the back-and-forth reports on whether or not the citizenship question will be added to the 2020 census, local groups said Wednesday that the Trump administration's intended effect — to discourage the participation of immigrant groups — has already been achieved.
"The damage has already been done in terms of folks are already scared of [the census]," said Sonia Orozco, the immigration and legal services coordinator for Enlace Chicago, an organization in Little Village. "When [residents] heard that the citizenship question might be added, it kind of like confirmed for them like: oh yeah, they're going to use this information against us."
Orozco said she was "relieved" after reports Tuesday that the citizenship question would remain off of next year's census forms.
In a written statement, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that the census bureau "started the process of printing the decennial questionnaires without the question."
On Wednesday morning, President Trump tweeted that reports from the federal Justice and Commerce departments were "fake," and that the administration is "absolutely moving forward" with the citizenship question on the census form. By Wednesday afternoon, two separate U.S. district court judges ordered the Trump administration to either explain its position or confirm that it will not pursue the citizenship question.
Juan Soto, executive director of the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, says rumors about the citizenship question, coupled with the Trump administration's recent threats of immigrants raids nationwide, have already made residents "suspicious" of the census.
"We live in a time where immigrants are being viewed as a target by the administration and are not welcomed in this country," Soto said. "The responsibility is on all of us — not just community groups, but churches, elected officials, anybody who is either living or working in immigrant communities — to engage [residents] in conversations about how important it is that they are counted."
Linda Yang, executive director of Xilin Association, says the Asian community is also affected by the citizenship question.
"A lot of people are afraid to fill out the form, even without the citizenship question," Yang said, citing the language barrier and lack of knowledge about the census as some of the hurdles in the Chinese community.
A U.S. Census Bureau report found that Asians were least likely to "report their intention to respond to the census."
Yang said her organization plans to reach out to restaurants and other small businesses to educate residents about the census.
Enlace Chicago's Orozco said that the Trump administration's anti-immigrant rhetoric is making it hard for community organizations to even engage residents in discussions about the census.
"It's different from before where we would be able to knock on doors and people would come out and talk to us," she said, adding that the threats of immigration raids have also made it hard to reach people at neighborhood businesses. "We have to take different approaches ... to get to the community."
Orozco added that attendance at know-your-rights workshops has been low due to fears that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials will target them, and that residents are not as willing to fill out intake forms with the organization.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ's Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter@estheryjkang.