With the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule in coming days on whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to the upcoming U.S. Census, local officials are getting ready to assure local residents that the question is optional and won’t affect them if it makes it onto the 2020 questionnaire.

“If it is on there, we’re going to tell them, ‘You don’t have to fill it out,’” said Santa Cruz County Manager Jennifer St. John, who is currently searching for an employee to oversee the county’s census efforts. “That will be the county’s job, to try to make the community feel comfortable that they don’t have to answer that question.”

But, she added, the question could convince some local residents not to participate in the census at all.

“There’s always people that are way over here, right? Like, ‘OK (the citizenship question is) on there, I don’t even want to touch it,” she said.

Like St. John, researchers say that asking respondents if they and the members of their household are U.S. citizens could lead to a systematic undercount of undocumented and Hispanic residents, even though the question would not be required.

The decennial population count is used to determine payouts from a number of funding sources, including state sales tax distributions, the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund and Community Development Block Grants. Therefore, an undercount in the local area could mean a hit to public coffers.

Investigators at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government say that the inclusion of a citizenship question could cause a nationwide undercount of Hispanic and Latino residents on the order of six million, or 12 percent of the population measured by the 2010 census. A study published by the Urban Institute estimates that in Arizona, the 2020 census could undercount the state’s Hispanic population by somewhere between 1.90 to 3.55 percent.

Ninety-four percent of Nogales residents and 83 percent of Santa Cruz County residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to 2010 census data.

Kathy Garino, who worked on the 2010 census for the city, said that it was important to inform people that they wouldn’t face consequences for their answer to a potential citizenship question.

“It all depends on the interviewer,” she said. “How they express to the person, ‘Hey (any response to the citizenship question) is not going to take any effect,’” she said.

Whether the question ends up on the 2020 census questionnaire is now up to the Supreme Court.

After the Trump administration announced plans last March to include a question on the census questionnaire asking if the individuals being counted are U.S. citizens, a group of state and local governments, along with activist organizations, filed a suit alleging that the question was unconstitutional because it would likely lead to a population undercount.

Lower courts ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and appeals brought the case before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has issued decisions in 57 cases so far this term, with rulings in 12 remaining cases expected in coming weeks.

But the court also has the option of dismissing the appeal, which would allow the appellate court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs to stand without the Supreme Court issuing a decision.


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