NJ Advocates Celebrate Supreme Court Decision On Census Citizenship Question

Jun 28, 2019

'The Count' joins Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh and advocates to promote an accurate census count.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

New Jersey advocates are celebrating the US Supreme Court’s move to keep the Trump Administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but still have lingering concerns about achieving an accurate count.

Patricia Williamson with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice says the citizenship question was presented to make the most vulnerable of residents’ invisible.

“By discouraging their participation in the census.  That failed attempt threatened to prevent nine million people in the country from participating.  A disproportionate number of whom are from communities like Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson, New Jersey.”

Peter Chen with Advocates for Children of New Jersey says the upcoming census was already expected to be one of the most challenging in American history.

“Language services are going to remain very limited in this census,” he said.  “The paper form will only adhere in English and Spanish.  We know that there are dozens of languages just here in the city of Paterson, let alone throughout the state.”

Chen believes the citizenship question debate may prevent some immigrants from participating in the census, even though it won’t be on the form.

“I think a lot of mistrust has already been sewn in many immigrant communities,” he said. “But that only means we have to redouble our efforts to engage those communities and community leaders to make sure that folks understand just how important the census count is.”

Now communities across the state are focusing on an accurate count.  In Paterson, Mayor Andre Sayegh helped create his city’s Complete Count Committee, saying the issue is close to home in his family.

“My mother in law is not a citizen, she’s a permanent resident and if the citizenship question was on the form, she may have been discouraged from filling it out.  How to you tell her grandchildren that their grandmother doesn’t count?  We all count,” Sayegh said.

President Trump has asked lawyers if they can delay the census until a final resolution on the citizenship question is made by the courts, but under federal law, it must begin on April 1st, 2020. 

Census figures determine how many federal dollars state’s receive for public housing, Medicaid, and other programs.  The number of Congressional seats a state holds are also determined by the census count.