Latino Memphians skeptic of census citizenship question

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - After 70 years, the citizenship question will be back on the U.S. Census.

In 2020, you will be asked if you are a U.S. citizen and that could create an issue when it comes to accurate data reporting for Memphis and the Mid-South.

Congress doles out dollars to cities based on census information. Fewer people filling out the census means fewer dollars.

Leaders of Memphis' Latino community said the citizenship question will make more people say "no thanks" to the census.

"People won't answer it," La Prensa Latina editor Vivian Fernandez-de-Adamson said.  "People who are not citizens or who are here in this community just won't answer."

Fernandez-de-Adamson said local Hispanic immigr ants already distrust the government.

"They fear ICE and police officers, and the level of fear has increased in the last year," Fernandez-de-Adamson said.

Latino Memphis Executive Director Mauricio Calvo said adding the citizenship question to the census will only lead to more fears of deportation.

"Why do you need to know that information?" Calvo said. "And people will wonder what are you going to do with the information."

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the question is necessary to measure how much of the American population is eligible to vote.

"The need for accurate data would outweigh fears about a lower response," Ross wrote in a memorandum explaining his decision.

To get a higher response, said Monica Sanchez of La Prensa Latina, Uncle Sam will have to educate the community.

"They're going to have to do a heavy campaign between not just the Latino community, but all the immigr ant communities," Sanchez said. "They'll have to say look, this information is just for statistics."

Calvo said that will be a hard sell.

"We're going to leave money on the table if we don't count as many people as we can possibly can count," Calvo said.

Congress provides money for infrastructure like roads and schools, based on population.  A safe, modern infrastructure is critical to the success of Memphis and the Mid-South, where there's a thriving Hispanic population.

But it has a growing skepticism of the government's motives as the number of deportations goes up and more raids are staged at job sites.

"They have to get the trust of the people because sometimes the people stop believing in the government and the authorities because they're chasing them," Sanchez said.

There are an estimated 81,000 Hispanics in Memphis, but Calvo thinks the number is much higher.  He said people were afraid to fill out the last census in 2010.

The bureau must submit a final list of questions to Congress by the end of March.  Several states, including New York and California, have already said they will sue if the citizenship question is included.

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