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Census immigration question could worsen Illinois population decline

By Cole Lauterbach
Illinois News Network

CHICAGO — Illinois advocates have raised concerns that a question about immigration status on the U.S. Census could lead to an undercounting of the state’s population, potentially exacerbating population decline.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments about adding a citizenship question to the upcoming Census questionnaire.

President Donald Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross added the question last year and the legal challenge is now in the hands of the nation’s highest court.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the Supreme Court Justices that the question needs to be on the Census for the count to be accurate.

“The secretary acted well within his discretion when he determined that reinstating the citizenship question would provide evidence of citizenship,” he said.

Lawyer Dale Ho told the justices that requiring a citizenship question will result in inaccurate counts because people in the country illegally would lie on the questions.

“The evidence shows that non-citizen respond to the questions inaccurately one-third of the time,” he said.

Justices seemed receptive of allowing the question, but the court has yet to rule on the case.

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch questioned the fear of underreporting due to a citizenship question. He said the length the questionnaire could be a bigger problem than the citizenship question itself.

“It’s very difficult to understand why that question would be the cause of people stopping answering,” he said.

If justices allow the question to stay on the Census and it leads to undercounting, Illinois could see an even steeper population decline than in recent years. That, in turn, could mean less federal funding for Illinois. It could also lead to less representation in Washington D.C.

“Illinois and Chicago will suffer from a very low response rate to the Census and particularly from immigrant communities,” said Andrew Kang with Asian Americans for Advancing Justice.

After five consecutive years of population decline, Illinois is already poised to lose one member of Congress in the 2021 reapportionment and could lose two if its population slide continues.

Illinois’ population declined by 45,000 people in 2018, according to Census estimates.

The Supreme Court could release its decision in June on whether the question will be allowed, months before the Census is to get started.

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