Census citizenship question concerns elected officials

Labor provided by Latino workers is important to agriculture in southwest Georgia, particularly in vegetable production and distribution.

MOULTRIE – For some Southwest Georgia governments, whether or not a citizenship question is on next year’s U.S. Census forms could be a big deal.

Vegetable production in Colquitt and Tift counties has drawn an influx of Hispanic residents — both permanent and migrant — over several decades, and a potential undercount of that population concerns elected officials. They fear that if a question about citizenship reduces that community’s participation in the process, they could miss out on federal dollars.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, as of July 2018, almost 20% of Colquitt County’s population of 45,592 was of Hispanic or Latino origin, and 12% of in Tift County’s population of 40,571. Dougherty County’s Hispanic or Latino population was estimated at 2.9%.

Population drives the distribution of federal funds to state and local governments, so cities and counties with large numbers of Hispanic residents would be most affected if Hispanic participation in the Census declines.

“You could end up being shorted money,” Colquitt County Commissioner Paul Nagy said in a Tuesday telephone interview. “At the same time, you’ve got to provide services. There’s good and bad (with the question). It’s bad because you have people who end up being undercounted.”

The Census Bureau has estimated that adding the citizenship question to the short form distributed to every household could lead to a drop in participation that would result in about 8% of the population not being counted. That’s because those who are not citizens or who have undocumented residents in their households will be less likely to fill out Census forms.

The issue seemed to be settled in favor of leaving the question off Census forms after a late June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and the apparent approval of printing forms without the citizenship question. President Trump later tweeted that is not the case and the administration now seems determined to include the citizenship question, or at least continue its legal battle.

Nagy, a Junior ROTC instructor at Colquitt County High School, said he does not have a problem with the question itself, but he said he is worried the results could be used in the wrong way.

“I don’t want it to be used as a cudgel to force the people out,” he said. “There’s a lot of these people in the school system, and for the most part they’re good kids. They want to live the American dream. The bottom line is, I say count them.”

On the other hand, he said, there are legitimate reasons for determining whether respondents are citizens, like national security and for drawing voting districts.

“The government does need to know who’s here and why they’re here,” he said. “From a security standpoint, the government needs to know certain things. There’s arguments to be made on both sides of the ledger. This could be done in a way that both sides of the aisle can be satisfied.”

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